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Fourth Sister

 
Jose Reymondez
Posts: 137
Location: Galicia, Spain Zone 9
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gaia's garden mentions Rocky Mountain Bee PLant as a beneficial insect attractor to add to the three sisters of corn, squash and beans. Having trouble finding seed in Europe, any suggestions for analogs that might be easier to find?
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Jose,
I've never managed to germinate cleome.
I've grown zinnia and cosmos on the bed's sunny sides.
Giant sunflowers are good bean-poles too.

And now for some unsolicited, kind of negative comment on this kind of gardening
I think the system only really seems to work when growing food to be dried in situ for winter storage, as Native Americans did.
Winter squash (pumkins in my world), drying beans, drying corn and sunflower seeds too...
I found it a difficult system to get right, as something always seems to swamp everything or struggle pitifully along.
I've only done it twice, as it's turned out to be impractical for me: my fence is best for the beans and I can't be bothered with drying corn. That leaves winter squash, no sisters in sight!
But your climate may well be more appropriate than mine
and successful or not, it's a fascinating experiment!
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Cleome serrulata seeds can, indeed be difficult to germinate. I have heard that it needs to either be sown in autumn, or stepped into spring snows. So, a few months of cold treatment would be in order.

I don't know what would be a good substitute for it.

Have you tried http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/item_366m_cleome_serrulata_solo_seeds ?

 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I like russian mammoth sunflowers as both a natural lattice and because the pollinators go ape shit over them. I'm with you, Leila, on the symbiosis of the Three being overrated; I grow all three together, but if I'm not using the sunflower as my fourth, I stake the beans separately. All my corn will get harvested fresh (I in fact sew my corn over a period of a couple of weeks so that I have that much time to eat fresh harvested corn) but I've had no luck with it over the last three years owing to a very active squirrel and raccoon population. I have a small (one 12x5 hugelbeet, and a backyard that's 19x35 all told, but it's three quarters shaded most of the time, and I can only plant in a third of it) garden managed intensively. To be honest, though, I can't countenance the complete waste of space in my situation, so I'm trying this year to interplant with potato, alfalfa, parsely, buckwheat, amaranth, beets, chard, kale, and malabar spinach, along with the 4 kinds of curcurbits (cucumber, zucchini, acorn squash, and a variety of pumpkin called Big Max, supposedly a very large, thick-walled variety) I'm planting, a purple-podded pole bean, peaches and cream corn, sunflower, green and red chicories, and dandelion. I am going to train my curcurbits as much as possible up the sunflowers (except for the giant pumpkins), and I'll tie the fruit up to the sunflower stalks by their stems (everything I'm planting will keep the stem, and will stay on the vine until it's ripe) where necessary. I don't expect to get anything from the grain crops, but the alfalfa and buckwheat will fix nitrogen with the beans, the alfalfa is a little water pump, and if they go to seed, everything will feed my chickens when I set them at it.

So to answer your question directly, I'd go with the giant sunflower species.

-CK
 
Rion Mather
Posts: 644
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This comment may border the biodynamic philosophy. You might want to stick with the 3s. One more will offset the spiritual essence of the design.
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I would ammend that to suggest that the number of plant species be divisible by three, perhaps grouped with threes in mind when patterning. I tend to look first to biological reason rather than unquantifiable ephemera. I have no problem with things ending up in threes, but I'm not going to let what amounts to a faith that I don't follow create problems and dictate terms to me.

I like composts and microbial inoculations, but what I'd really like is a proper scientific analysis on the mechanics of biodynamics.

-CK
 
Rion Mather
Posts: 644
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Faith doesn't necessarily have to be tied in with biodynamics. Sometimes there isn't an explanation or fact to go on. To each their own, Chris.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1341
Location: northern California
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I've done quite a bit with Three Sisters and more over the years. As mentioned above, it really shines when all are grown for dry or mature product. The end result and sign of success is something like an impenetrable jungle! Ecologically this is a good thing....full interception of sunlight in three dimensions, excellent competition with weeds, etc. but thrashing into it to get sweet corn or summer squash or green beans would be an itchy, messy task, as well as damaging to the plants. But for dry use, the whole lot is left till first frost and then harvested at once.
One key is to plant the corn before the others, and wait until it is a couple of feet tall before planting the beans, especially. This gives it enough head start to reach it's full height and do its thing while the beans slowly, and then more quickly, follow on. Plant the corn in groups of three or four, and then go three or four feet apart, and plant another group. The beans will tangle the cornstalks together and make a much stronger support than single cornstalks, or corn in rows. You want a tall, strong-stalked corn variety.
In Central America this system is called milpa, and a whole bunch of other plants are added in, or permitted to grow. Sunflowers, devil's claw, cleome, chenopods, tomatoes, etc.; and then, being tropical there, perennials like cassava and banana and papaya are tucked in, and they keep on going after the initial harvests. I think ultimately it's basically architectural, with the goal being to stack and pack the field fully with useful plants.
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Rion, when I said faith, I did not mean religion, although anyone familiar with the mystical elements of biodynamics and with the laterally related worship practiced at Rudolph Steiner's Waldorf Schools probably sees it that way.

I meant faith as in belief without supporting reason or evidence. Like the idea that if you plant in threes, your garden will be healthier. What about the number three makes plants grow better? Why isn't the perfect soil macronutrient ratio 3:3:3? Why don't plants grow optimally at pH 3?

I am perfectly fine with the idea that preparing specific inoculations will improve soil health, and that the moon's gravitation might trigger plant life cycles, and so timing planting with the moon might make sense. But if there's no rational reason for it, I don't consider it useful advice.

-CK
 
richie Walsh
Posts: 16
Location: Zone 7 Dublin. Ireland
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When it comes to the fourth sister I use borage. the bees love it, and after visiting the borage visit my pumpkin flowers. The great thing about borage is once you plant a few they self seed themselves freely around your garden, and the flowers taste and look great in a salad

In my cool climate I never got the beans to climb my corn, no matter how I timed the planting. But I've had success with planting broad beans [Faba] (which don't climb) in the Autumn before which are harvested May when the last frosts have passed and it is warm enough to plant out my corn and pumpkin (or courgettes) and I mulch the Faba plants in situ and plant super dwarfing french bush beans at the front edge of the raised bed for a later bean crop and more N fixing. Its just a matter of training the pumpkin leaves so they don't cover the beans by moving them or pruning them back
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