Archive for May, 2008

Three Sisters of Life

Gardening in rows, while on the one hand is extremely productive, they are usually not much to look at.  With organic gardening becoming more of the norm these days, different gardening techniques are meant to provide healthier products.  Some of the gardening techniques implemented into agricultural landscape today is a throw back to the time of Native American gardeners.  Small spaced gardens and water saving techniques helped the Native Americans not only provide for their village, but to do it in an effective manner.


One unique way of gardening is to use mounds instead of straight rows.  Typically these mounds were planted with the “Three Sisters of Life” – which are corn, beans and squash.  This important trio of crops helped each other in several ways when interplanted.  Corn planted deeply in a mound can withstand high winds, and mixed plantings of crops aren’t as likely to be destroyed by pests.  Corn, the tallest member of the family, provides a support for her climbing sister, the bean.  The bean takes nitrogen from the air and transfers it into the soil, enriching it for her two sisters.  Squash spreads her big leaves over the ground, shading out sun-loving weeds and helping to conserve moisture for them all.


To experiment with my own three sisters garden, I started with an 8 by 8 foot square of land that was in full sunshine for the majority of the day.  I layered newspaper, shredded bark, and compost over the area in late fall.  By spring, I had the perfect planting bed.  I divided the garden into four equal blocks, with two pathways going through the center of the garden in a cross formation.


In each block of garden, I mounded the soil up approximately four inches to form a hard-packed boundary wall.  I filled each mound with composted garden soil to make four nice planting beds.


Corn is the first sister to be planted – I used red popcorn for my experimental garden, but sweet corn or field corn is just as acceptable.  For ease with planting corn, try soaking the kernels overnight in warm water to soften them.  Poke 4 to 6, 4-inch holes throughout the mound and drop a corn kernel into each hole.  Refill the holes with compost, and pat down thoroughly.  Water the mound to help settle the soil.  When the corn is about six inches high, thin to six inches apart and add another two inches of compost around the bases of the cornstalks.


After thinning the corn and adding more compost, make a one-inch deep hole near the base of each corn stalk.  Drop a bean seed into all but one hole.  In the remaining hole, plant a squash seed.  Water the garden again and keep the seeds moist until they sprout.  Check the soil daily for moisture; when the soil is dry, fill the mound and allow the water to slowly seep down to the roots.


Throughout the growing season, feed your plants every two to three weeks with manure or compost tea.  Lend a helping hand to the beans by guiding their vines up the cornstalks.  If the squash vines are crowding the corn, clip them at a leaf node.


When the corn plants are about a foot high, mound more compost around their stalks to provide support; take care not to bury the young squash or bean plants when doing this.


When the corn silks turn brown, the corn is nature.  Pick and hang them in a dry area, or spread on newspapers to dry.  Harvest the brown pods of pole beans and dry them on old screens.  Gather the squashes, wipe clean, and store in a cool, dry place.


I also tried another variation on the Three Sisters Garden, and I had great success.  Instead of using corn, beans and squash, I used sunflowers, beans and pumpkins.  I planted the sunflowers in the same way as I did the corn.  When the sunflowers were one foot tall, I planted the beans and pumpkins seeds exactly like I did the beans and squash.  When using miniature pumpkins, the vines can grow up the sunflower stalks just like the beans.  With larger pumpkins, you will have to let the pumpkin vines escape from the garden and grow along the yard.


Growing By the Light of the Moon

Some Native Americans plant their above ground crops, such as corn, on a waxing, or growing moon.  They believe that seeds planted on a waning moon will not grow.  They plant underground crops, such as potatoes, on a waning moon.  From the new moon to the full moon is considered the waxing moon because the moon appears to be growing in size.  From the full moon to the new moon is a waning moon because the moon appears to be shrinking in size.


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New Fangled Tomatoes

A new idea I am trying this year is to grow tomatoes in hanging buckets. I’ve taken a 5-gallon bucket and cut a two inch hole in the center of the bottom. I also punch several small holes for drainage. Then I took a tomato plant and gently placed it in the bucket upside down. The plant will be hanging from the bottom of the bucket. I then placed moss around the opening to keep the plant securely in the bucket and then filled the bucket with compost. In the top of the bucket I planted two sweet potatoes. I have the bucket hanging from my clothesline and I water as needed. During the last cold spell we had, I brought the bucket inside to prevent frost damage.

I got this idea after seeing a commerical for a similar planter. The tomato vine grows out the bottom of the bucket and the sweet potatoes grow down the sides of the bucket. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this experiment!

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