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20/04/2009

Three Sisters Planting


three sisters, maize, corn, beans, squash

A few years ago it became fashionable to plant the 'Three Sisters', a method of inter cropping developed by the Mayan's to produce all three of their staple crops on one plot of land.

The basic method used in 'Three Sisters' planting is to plant Corn, Beans, and Squash in the same vegetable patch. The Sweet corn will grow tall and strong and provide a support for the Beans. The Beans grow up the Corn whilst adding Nitrogen to the soil, and the Squash plants spread out around the base and proved a live mulch and spiky protection. A simple and natural way to inter crop your vegetables.

Before you dash out a buy three packs of seeds and sow them in your garden you will need to take into consideration some of the variables affecting the cropping of the 'Three Sisters'. Mayan's lived in a Tropical Climate so the plants grow at different rates to our temperate one. Mayan's dried their crops to make Maize flower and Dried Beans, rather than eating them fresh, so harvesting the Beans when fresh may mean stepping on immature Squashes. Lastly, the varieties grown are unknown so you'll have to make a best guess and use trial and error to find the best Sisters to use together. The picture above shows a Corn plant on a mound of earth, but Corn will grow stronger and taller when cropped close together, so already there are two possible ways to grow it. As no one has produced a definitive guide to 'Three Sisters' I suggest you play around with different options and if you would be good enough to let me know your results we can add them here for others to follow.

This year I am going to try the Single Corn method with F1 Applause Corn, F1 Crown Prince Squashes, and Borlotto Beans in the garden, and the same varieties in a patch on the allotment 3m by 4m. I have picked these varieties because they are easy to obtain, and both the Squashes and Beans will store well through the winter.

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