Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sisters

Probably one of the best known companion planting groupings is the "Three Sisters." As children we were introduced to companion planting along with our Native American studies. Said to have originated with the Iroquois, the "Three Sisters" method of planting combined three staples in the Native American diet, corn, beans and squash.

The Story
Corn, the oldest sister, was said to grow strong and proud. Squash, the youngest sister, crouched at the feet of the other two, keeping them protected from predators. Beans, the middle sister leaned on her older sister for support and twined the three together.

How It Works
The sturdy stalks of the corn plant provide a natural trellis for the beans to grown on. Because the corn needs to be planted some distance apart for better pollination, gaps are left between the plants. The squash then fills the gaps, covers the soil and shades the ground to reduce moisture loss. Beans have the remarkable ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen making it available not only to itself, but the other two. Since both corn and squash are heavy feeders, the beans help keep them supplied with food.

How to Plant
At the appropriate planting time for corn in your area (see corn packet) create a mound about two feet across with a flat top and gentle sloping sides. In the center of the mound, plant about 6 corn kernels. About two weeks later when corn plants are 5-6 inches high, plant beans about midway between the corn and the edge of the mound (make sure to use pole bean varieties and not bush). About one week after that, plant squash around the base of the mound. Once everything gets going, thin to no more than two corn plants and two bean plants per mound.

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