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Three Sisters mounds  RSS feed

 
Patrick Winters
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I can't wait to try the Three Sisters growing method for corn, beans, and squash, but one thing sticks out in my mind as a potential problem and I'd like to get some realistic troubleshooting.

Traditionally, the corn and beans were planted in mounds of earth, presumably shaped up by hand. These weren't little anthills, the mounds were said to best when around 18 inches across and at least 6-8 inches tall. Now I really want to grow my corn in this fashion, but forming 500 mounds of that scale out of the soil by hand seems like it would take half the planting season. In order to do it properly one would need a large labor pool, which isn't a problem if you have a whole village, but even with a few friends and family being drafted it's hardly the same effect. If you were to simply repair the mounds with fresh compost every year it might not be much of an issue, but as I'll be practicing strict crop rotation that means new mounds in different strips every year, a LOT of labor expended.

Anybody know a way to make this more efficient? One thing that comes to mind is loading up a bucket with the soil and then upending it, and then forming it together, but even then it requires lots of labor and digging or wheelbarrowing in huge quantities of compost. There must be a smarter way!
 
Patrick Winters
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The old Plymouth-era method involved planting a small dead fish at the base of the mounds as an extra decomp nutrient boost, so they must have been shaped beforehand. And I may actually need more than 500 mounds, even with 2-3 cornstalks per mound, as I've got plenty of mouths to feed. It'll be good to have their help, but I'm curious to see if there's a faster, more effective method!
 
Devon Olsen
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Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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this is a good thread to ask a good question
im curious if it would be a decent idea to just plant the garden without the mounds, whats the plausibility of this?
 
James Colbert
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I think (don't know) that the mounds act like raised beds. It allows for loose soil that can hold water and nutrients without the risk of drowning roots as could be the case in heavy clay soils. You could make one or a few long raised bed and divide it into 18" wide mounds. This would probably be easier than making each individual mound. 500 mounds could probably done in a reasonable amount of time using this method (perhaps a few days to a couple of weeks). May I ask what you will do with 1000 to 1500 heads of corn? Will they be for sale? Or are you making a bunch of cornmeal? Tortillas? Sounds delicious
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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The mound is to keep stuff dry.

We use pits out west, to capture and hold rain. Best if an "eyebrow" arc, open side facing up-hill to trap water.
Can also just use row planting, with corn buried DEEP in the furrows, and squash and beans up on the hills.
Mix in some rocky mtn bee plant to draw pollinators, and give some shade to the base of the beans too..
 
Patrick Winters
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James Colbert wrote:I think (don't know) that the mounds act like raised beds. It allows for loose soil that can hold water and nutrients without the risk of drowning roots as could be the case in heavy clay soils. You could make one or a few long raised bed and divide it into 18" wide mounds. This would probably be easier than making each individual mound. 500 mounds could probably done in a reasonable amount of time using this method (perhaps a few days to a couple of weeks). May I ask what you will do with 1000 to 1500 heads of corn? Will they be for sale? Or are you making a bunch of cornmeal? Tortillas? Sounds delicious


Yeah, I'm going to mostly be growing dent corn for cornmeal. Those cultivars have the strongest stalks and are best suited for pole beans anyway, I hear most sweet corn cultivars are pulled over by the heavy climbers. The ultimate idea is to get all carbs on-site as well, not just fresh fruit and vegetables. Plan on mixing Three Sisters rows with amaranth, alfalfa, soybeans or canola, barley, buckwheat, oats, rye, sunflowers, and green manure crops in strips that are thin enough to try and still get the most polyculture effect out of them.

The idea of making a raised furrow and then whacking out the spaces to form mounds is a great one! I was hoping to try no-till for the crops, but if one is shaping the earth into mounds then for the corn alone at least it seems like there is not much of a difference.
 
John Polk
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My experience has been that squash/pumpkin/gourd always seem to do better in big mounds.
The fruits can trail down the mounds.

I have considered doing hugle mounds. Space them apart, and next year, build the mounds in this year's spaces.
Eventually, you could flatten the mounds to create one large 'raised bed' of OM rich soil.

 
Patrick Winters
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John Polk wrote:My experience has been that squash/pumpkin/gourd always seem to do better in big mounds.
The fruits can trail down the mounds.

I have considered doing hugle mounds. Space them apart, and next year, build the mounds in this year's spaces.
Eventually, you could flatten the mounds to create one large 'raised bed' of OM rich soil.



A good idea, but I feel it's probably safer to continually rotate the site of the corn in at the very least a valiant effort to reduce pest attacks. Otherwise, the pupae will hatch and simply trek 18 inches over to where the new mound is to lay the new eggs. I'd like to have barriers of other plant species always between the new generation of adult insects and their host species to try and confuse them.
 
Sara Harding
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I had good success in my USDA zone 7 climate by planting in clumps. I used succession. First a cover of winter rye and hairy vetch, followed by chickens grazing, then marking and weeding the beds, then another cover of rye. The following spring I put down a few shovelfuls of compost on top of the growing rye and forked it in a bit without turning the soil. I planted Cherokee white flour corn in an oval shaped clump (pre-sprouted the seeds so the fire ants would leave them alone), then a hill of pumpkins, then another clump of corn, etc, just pulling up rye where I put the seeds. The beans (a local heirloom snap pole) were planted on either side of the corn when it was a few inches high. Until the plants got established, I pulled up the rye as mulch and laid it around the bed. The pumpkins that were thinned to one vine per hill were the most productive. Once they got established, I didn't need to weed. I have gotten loads of beans, canned some, and am saving the rest for seed so I can plant more next year. The corn also did well, and is now drying in braids hanging in my pantry. The heirloom pumpkins are still ripening, and still setting fruit. I have had no significant pest damage. Only a few Japanese beetles and bean beetles that afforded some free chicken food after being shaken into the Tunnel of Death (an empty vinegar jug, the top cut off and fit upside down like a funnel into the bottom). I was almost sorry to see the bean beetles' numbers fall after only a few visits, and so were the chickens. After the area is harvested in the fall, I will let the chickens in to graze on the weeds and grubs. This one little experimental area has been more productive than all the rest of my garden put together, I think.
 
Elisabeth Tea
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How many mounds do I need to plant per person who is eating? Corn dries well, so if I wanted a year's supply for one adult (perhaps only eating corn once per week) how many would I want to plant? I know that results may vary, so let's just say that my average production will be the same as your average production.
 
Rick Larson
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Location: Manitowoc WI USA Zone 5
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Elisabeth Tea wrote:How many mounds do I need to plant per person who is eating? Corn dries well, so if I wanted a year's supply for one adult (perhaps only eating corn once per week) how many would I want to plant? I know that results may vary, so let's just say that my average production will be the same as your average production.


I planted 18 cord seeds and harvested 24 seven-inch cobs and almost as many smaller ears of corn. Along with this I planted 4 acorn squash and 4 butternut. The acorn squash did not like the situation and failed, the butternut "grew to sunlight" and produced 15 big sweet squash. And then I harvested many, many meals of Kentucky wonder beans that grew right up the cornstaks, and a row of climbing peas in front on the two rows of corn, that did alright. Hope this helps. I plan to do this same planting in the same spot until this fails, so we'll see how long this will keep working.

The whole works was planted in a 27 year old lasagna garden and fertilized with fish and texas greensand.
 
Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
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