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Three Sisters In Connecticut - How To Do It Right?  RSS feed

 
Andrew Michaels
Posts: 75
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Hey guys.

I'll be doing some maintenance on a property this spring, and have the opportunity to plant something I've always wanted to try - a three sisters garden.

The available space is a long-serving, very flat, very sandy garden area (used for tomatoes, green beans, peppers, etc). Tons of organic matter and good soil have been dumped into this garden over the years, but it quickly disappears.

The area of space I'll be planting in is roughly rectangular and aprox 50 square meters, or .013 acres.

The property is in central Connecticut, and I'll be free to plant sometime in May.

I'd love suggestions for how I might do this successfully, especially given the sandy soil.

I don't want to put tons of effort into upgrading the garden because the property is going to new owners before too long.

I'm just hoping to experiment and see how it goes.

My vague plans:

1) Plant 3-5 sweet corn seeds into small holes that are roughly 3 feet apart.

2) Wait for those to sprout, thinning to maybe 3 sprouts per hole.

3) Mound up some soil around the sprouting corn and plant green beans, squash, pumpkins, and watermelon (will watermelon work in this situation?) into the mound. I'm thinking that each mound should have 4 pumpkins/watermelons/squash and three green beans. What do you think of that number?

4) Pray? Do corn dance?



Any mistakes you see in my plan? Am I overlooking something?

Particularly if you've had success with a three sisters planting, I'd love to hear what strategies have worked well for you.

Also, what species of corn/beans/squash/watermelon do you suggest for planting in Connecticut?

Thanks,

Andrew









 
Andrew Michaels
Posts: 75
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BTW, the site gets full sun from early morning until late afternoon.
 
David Bates
Posts: 79
Location: Mountain Grove, Ontario, Canada
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Rustic,

I'll be planting Three Sisters myself for the first time this year. Just north of Lake Ontario so I imagine that we will have similar weather (if I know my US geography and Connecticut hasn't moved). Anyway, corn, beans and squash were the crop around my place until about 200 years ago. So it should work

I have copied some basic growing instruction onto my web site, you can see them here: http://brambles.ca/node/65

So since this is my first time I don't have any experienced advice. But I do have some ideas that I can share. First of all, I'm going to try to plant several different types of corn, beans and squash with each other in various places with different ecologies. Some on south slopes, clearings, some in lower wet places. Next year I will know more and so on. The key will be to save seeds from successes and pay attention to where they were

It's important to me that I have good results with this project because I want to have corn, beans and squash to feed my animals. Not just me. So that effects what kind of plants I try too. I don't like Acorn Squash but they keep well and Chickens like them. Chickens and Pigs will eat a lot more Pumpkin than I can comfortably stomach... I'll save the Spaghetti Squash for me

Another thing to think about when choosing types is storage. If you plant a lot of sweet corn then you may be faced with a feast followed by a corn famine (as it were). Someone on Permies reccomended Dent Corn, I'm going to take that advice for most of the Corn but will be trying Popcorn and some Sweet Corn too. Corn seeds are harder to save because you need a lot of corn growing close together to get much viable seed.

Anyway, that's my ramble about Three Sisters.
 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1067
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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due to the fact that in nature plants germinate when they are ready, would it work to simply make yourself a seed mix and scatter this mix on some fine soil under a light mulch so it can all come up on its own?
 
Craig Dobbson
master steward
Posts: 1998
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I think the key in the planting succession is to make sure that each species has grown enough before planting the next one so that you don't have too much competition.

Plant the corn and wait til it's a few inches tall.
Plant the beans around the base of the corn.
Once the beans have started to form some true leaves, plant the squash.

Planting the squash and beans at the same time could risk having the broad leaves of the squash smothering the beans before they get a chance to climb.

I think i remember reading that in another forum here.

Full disclosure: I've never done this but it seems to make sense.

 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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I've got a three sisters plot maturing (first official day of autumn tomorrow )
I read a lot about it first, and a big red flag was failures begause people liked the idea, but didn't get the 'why' of the system.
Supposedly Native Americans generally used it as a 'plant and walk away' type thing, leaving produce to mature and dry in place. So winter squash, drying corn, drying beans rather than zucchini, sweetcorn and snap beans.
I also read lots about planting succesively as people mention, but since I was trying to use some of the original gardener's techniques, and I was going on holiday I just put everything in at the same time, which is apparently traditional, but I didn't plant on mounds, which is not at all traditional! It's a very small area, prone to drying out and I avoid going up if possible. I put seed straight into the (very amended) soil, corn about a foot apart with beans close.
I'd suggest planting less in each spot, especially squash as the plants usually get huge. I planted 3 corn and took out the 2 weaker ones, 3 beans and two pumpkins in the entire plot, one on each end
I planted giant sunflower seeds too which make excellent bean-poles.
I've got marina di chiogga pumkin, a traditional 'ironbark' storage squash, anasazi beans, an ancient mezoamerican drying bean and 'black Navajo' corn, which can be eaten fresh, but is more a dent/flour corn. I've had a pretty average time with corn in the past, but this has 3-5 decent ears per plant.
Can you put in a leguminous cover-crop first and cut it down before planting? As you've pointed out, maintaining OMs a big issues in sand! Can you get grass clippings? I've found they make a good mulch on my three sisters plot.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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That's right Leila. The natives planted the 3-Sisters so they would have food for the winter. They did not use 'fresh eating' varieties, but rather varieties that could be dried for winter use. Three crops that grew well together, and could be put away for the lean months.

 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
Posts: 1426
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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I tried this last year and my main problem with it was that the beans were pulling over and down my corn. Having the squash growing in and around the corn was O.K. but the beans needed sturdier support than the corn stalk. Other than that they all grew well and tasted great. I just don't grow enough corn to sacrifice any stalks.
 
Devon Olsen
Posts: 1067
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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right, and i am assuming that due to the manner in which they planted they didn't do a progressive planting?
for me this progressive planting wouldnt work too well because all three of these crops take just about the entire season to begin producing and by progressively planting i risk not harvest the latter planting
mounds do sound like a good idea and maybe this could also help prevent the wind from blowing away all of the mulch, maybe anyway
and what about further diversifying the field and growing some actual ground covers as well as the squash, and growing some climbing flowers and some lower level plants such as other flowers and okra and such?

sorry if it seems im jacking the thread, not my entire intent because i think the OP may be able to benefit from these answers just as much as i can
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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I found planting all at once worked ok, but I think researching the traditional varieties coud be worthwhile, not so much for authenticity's sake (although I love history/plants/food) but to locate varieties bred for the conditions.
With my teeny-tiny plot, there's no space for anything else: any groundcovers would be shaded out by rampant squash, which is kind of good I suppose, since that's part of their job description
Cleome is often planted as the fourth 'sister', but I had zero germination, so sunflowers were my fourth. I can't see how it would have handled the competition anyway.
I've heard of people growing amaranth in there too. I think nasturtium would work, but I wouldn't want too many climbers or they might pull the corn over.
I think the corn's the most important thing to get right: it has to be a really tall and sturdy variety to handle a whole lot of bean plants growing on it, let alone squash deciding to grow vertically! One reason to grow field/dent/maize corn, as the plants tend to be really big.
People used to bury fish under the mounds. I wimped out on that one, I don't have a car and I'm not nearly dedicated enough to lug fish guts around on foot!
I did do quite a bit of bed prep, adding loads of seaweed, growing, cutting and mulching a mixed cover crop over winter so it was broken down when I planted. Certainly way more fiddling than Rustic plans. Rustic, if you were keen, burying fish/meat under the mounds would be great .
 
David Bates
Posts: 79
Location: Mountain Grove, Ontario, Canada
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I am jealous of your "first day of Autumn", Leila. Lucinda and I have our first day of Spring about the same time and (as I mentioned) we will be starting our three sisters where they were the traditional crop about two hundred years ago. Many of the varieties of Corn they used are still around but sold as ornamentals or "Indian Corn". There is some chance that I'll find some really good ones. Also, there is a very large Mennonite community to the West of us. That's where I will be looking for my drying beans and winter squash.

We will probably have some luck in some areas. We have enough land for about fifty soccer pitches and it varies between granite ridges and low swamp. Certainly we may augment the soil the first time we plant but the goal is to not do this. So maybe some seaweed the first year but more likely we will get our captive labourers to do that for us. Captive labourers? Yup. Our soil is better described as rocks wound with tree roots. So I am going to buy one or two moderately old sows and put them to work. The mounds will be holes that the sows dig filled back in by me. When the planting is done the Sows will be kept out with electric fence until harvest is almost over, then they can come in and clean up. They cycle begins again.


3Sisters.jpg
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My ad campaign for three sisters, sure to take off.
 
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