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advice on 3 sisters

 
charles c. johnson
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charles c. johnson
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sorry im not always clear i wanted advice..lol anyone ever done this ?
 
Jennifer Smith
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I have tryed this, what would you like to know?  I remember you do not plant all at once, let the corn come up first.
 
charles c. johnson
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Do you tie the beans  to the corn? Do i need to cut the beans back so they don't choke the corn ?Can it be any climbing bean. 
 
Jennifer Smith
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Plant the corn first and let it get a couple of inches high before planting beans, same with squash, plant after beans are up.  Tying the beans I guess would depend on the bean.  I didn't.  I planted both climbing and bush beans.  I never cut my beans back.
 
charles c. johnson
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cool thanks
 
paul wheaton
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I always thought you planted all three at the same time.
 
Jennifer Smith
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It would  be interesting to try both ways and see what works best for a person.
 
Isawela Yonah
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We did this for the first time last spring...we are in Georgia, so we went by the Cherokee moons on when to plant the corn, and then we did wait a few weeks to plant the beans.

The best part for me was that we planted locally appropriate varieties (Cherokee purple corn, a local black pea which grows like kudzu, and a regional a moschata type winter squash) and they all did SO well, and are SO yummy!
We will definitely do it again-maybe try another few varieties-but the black pea is staying as a staple crop!

Fun!
 
                                      
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hey,
we did this as well last year.

since we got our corn and sunflower seeds sent to us as a donation with not much info about them we didnt know what type of corn and sunflower would come up, how high they get etc. and it took us several tries to figure out which beans or peas to grow on which sunflower, we'll do better this year...

if you have huge sunflowers it can be worthwile not to use peas but an other nitrogen fixing bean. i dont know their name in english but they are pink with spots, shaped like regular brown beans about 1,5 cm. they grow quite high, so are good combis for high sunflowers or jerusalem artichokes (topinambour) on which they also grow perfectly.

having jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers among your corn (and garden in general) is advantegous cos they atract aphids and stuff. so having a sunflower in every few square meters of 3 sister corn keeps aphids under control.

Also as you probably know, in stead of pumpkin, courgette or cucumber can be grown.
 
                              
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Isabel Crabtree, do you know what type of bean your black bean was?  I'm in Florida and expect that many of the things that do well in Ga might also be appropriate here.  I've grown lots of cow peas or crowder peas in summer down here.  They seem to attract lots of aphids and the ants farming the aphids but I still got a fair harvest even with the insect attacks so I didn't really do anything to battle them.

I have not had much luck growing corn down here in the past though I haven't really tried corn in guild planting yet.  Perhaps if I can find a locally appropriate variety of corn I might try again.  I usually do grow multiple types of squash and even with powdery mildew, squash bugs, and leaf footed bugs attacking most all of them, I still get good harvests so I'll continue growing cucubrits.
 
                    
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We tried this for the first time last summer, and I think the spacing advice I got from some website (not this one, not a forum) put the corn way too far apart for good pollination.  We were instructed to wait to plant the beans and squash until the corn was a few inches high.  I sowed buckwheat around in the whole patch right away, and I was glad for this decision because the later planted squash took until late july to fill in. 

We made 2' wide mounds 2' apart, with four corn seeds and four bean seeds in each.  Three out of four of the corn kernels sprouted, adding to the pollination woes.  We ended up hand pollinating some corn early on, but then decided to just let nature take its course.  The hand pollinated corns gave us some very interesting colors (we used painted mountain corn collected at aprovecho by a friend) but the overall yield was pathetically low.  We used several types of bean, both pole and bush.  We used "oregon homestead squash" from an oregon organic seed company.  This squash made us a whole bunch of giant green squashes elsewhere in the garden, but not so much in the corn patch. 

When it came time to harvest, I thought the bush beans were much easier to pick than locating beans all tangled up in corn stalks.  Sometimes I noticed that the climbing beans would pinch an ear of corn into the stalk and prevent the silks from emerging, but that was rare. 

This was our first growing season here, and our first try at this arrangement.  I wasn't impressed with yields, but I remind myself that our soil will improve and be more able to support heavy feeders several years from now. 

We've decided mounds in general don't suit our soil type for annual crops.  Next year we're going to try again, but with closer plant spacing and starting with slight depressions rather than mounds.  I might just use buckwheat instead of squash for a ground cover.  Stays short enough to not shade the corn and beans, easier to walk through in the middle of the season, amazing bee fodder, and comes up with huge leaves in 12 hours. 
 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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marinajade, where are you located?
Actually I wish more people had their general location listed on their profiles so it would be easier to relate comments and advise to my location.

I know when growing corn they usually say to grow a block of it rather than a single long row for better pollination.  However, I've not had much luck growing very small plots of corn and many of the pests here make corn a real challenge (I shudder to think how much chemicals they must use on the corn that is grown commercial around here but we still eat it occasionally because it is local  )

Anyway, has anyone had good luck spacing corn like 4 ' apart?  I remember reading that in poor soil this wide spacing is recommended but I did wonder about pollination.
 
                    
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I'll put that info in my profile, just for you.    I agree it's a good idea.

We're in the lowest part of the cascade mountain range in N. California.  2200 feet, 60-80 inches of rain in the winter, none at all in the summer.  We're probably a zone 7, but I haven't been here very long, and depending on where you are located on the bowl of our valley, temperatures fluctuate a lot.  By the records at my land, our low this year has been 11 degrees, but my not-too-far-away neighbors reported -4 closer to the valley floor during that same week. 

We have rather large temp fluctuations between day and night time, 40-50 degree differences between daily summer highs and lows are totally normal.  We've had good (very limited) success with rocks to make heat sinks and micro climates.   
 
Travis Philp
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Here's a link outlining the steps to plant a 3 sisters guild, with a concise diagram at the bottom of the page and good description and instruction above it.

http://www.reneesgarden.com/articles/3sisters.html
 
Paul Cereghino
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Nice link... I am leaving my chicken tractor on a 8x8 patch of ground for around a month, between moves, throwing in chunks of scythed pasture for mulch periodically.  I hope it'll be in good shape by mid-may for planting my 3 sister's guild.  I should have around 16x24 ready by then. 

I figure I'll sow half my corn in the greenhouse as transplants... its hard to get a big crop of corn around here, and our ground is a little cold, and the mulch won't help.  I'll put some pictures up sometime.  I found 'painted mountain' as a grain corn from Territorial Seeds
 
                    
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Travis, that's the link I used for guidance last spring and the spacing was too far apart for good pollination of the corn, in my opinion.  I even made our hills a bit closer to each other, because it looked reaaaally far apart to me.  Jus sayin. 
 
Travis Philp
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Hmmm, now that I think of it, thats not the plan I used either. It's been awhile I guess.

Here's the way I planted my mounds. This method is different than my previous post in that all the corn mounds are next to eachother on the east and west sides instead of alternating between corn mounds and squash mounds. The germination was good for me.

http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/complant.html
       

 
                          
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I have tried the 'three sisters' method a few times ... with mixed results.   The 'trick' seems to be to allow the corn to get established BEFORE the beans or squash start to compete with it for sunlight.  In a southern region you can guarantee this by sequential planting as posted by others.  But in more northern regions where the growing season doesn't allow for a lot of 'wiggle room' ( i.e. where I live in northern NY ), the best option seems to be to plant everything at the same time but stick with bush bean varieties and smaller squash varieties so that the corn can absorb all of the available sunshine above the 2ft or so in max height of the beans and squash.

Last year I tried a much simpler arrangement ... two straight 50ft east-west rows of corn with 16" between plants and between rows , then with alternating bush beans and squash planted in a southern facing third row using 4ft spacing between the beans and squash plants.  The corn pollination was a lot better, weed control was a lot easier, and it was easy to pick maturing beans without stepping on the squash !   
 
Paul Cereghino
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Melonie wrote:
in more northern regions where the growing season doesn't allow for a lot of 'wiggle room'


You can say that again.  The corn just doesn't get that tall that fast!  Thanks for your thoughts. -PRC
 
                    
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Native Americans were known for throwing fish remains under their plantings.  This was true for 3 sisters plantings as well.  With corn being such a heavy feeder this seems to make sense.  A lot of the documentation on 3 sisters setups seems to leave the fish part out.   

 
tel jetson
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serj wrote:
Native Americans were known for throwing fish remains under their plantings.  This was true for 3 sisters plantings as well.  With corn being such a heavy feeder this seems to make sense.  A lot of the documentation on 3 sisters setups seems to leave the fish part out.   


reading through this thread, I was thinking of the same thing.  been intending to go smelt dipping this spring for just this purpose (prolly eat some, too, I suppose).  my grandparents and great-grandparents and even great-great-grandparents were fond of smelt in their gardens.  don't know that many folks other than Paul Cereghino are close by, but I'm told the Cowlitz is a good smelt river.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I wonder if ground-up smelt in the irrigation water are part of California's famed fertility. 

(The pumps that feed the giant canal system have begun to threaten a species of them, with all the mechanical damage they do.)
 
                    
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My partner told me that the entire central valley used to be an ephemeral lake, fed by the spring melt (carrying silt, fish remains, and lord knows what other amazing soil builders) of all the rivers that are now dammed up.  The first whites had to paddle around in canoes to stake their claims.  We drove around Wasco/Bakersfield recently visiting family....all I could do was imagine huge flocks of birds feasting among grasses and reeds, elk carefully wading through the water....I really wish I had a time machine sometimes.  The soil on the valley floor is miles deep due to this process happening for....a long time.  Ever read any John McPhee?  I've read "Rising from the Planes" about Wyoming's geology, next is "Assembling California." 

The fish thing is a nice idea, but I can't think of a better way of asking animals to come and dig up your garden in search of nice rotting fish flesh.  I was warned not to try any garden amendments with lots of blood or bone meal out here.  In any other location, I'd be more worried about dogs than bears.  But I'm sure it would work really really well as plant food. 
 
Brenda Groth
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well i can tell you it works best with pumpkins or winter squash, the beans will not always do well up the corn..bush beans around the sweet corn will do ok though..picking beans in the corn is a real pain in the butt.

the squash and pumpkins do help to keep the critters out of the corn..but the critters really aren't that stupid..they'll figure it out.

i have tried it several times and have found that the corn doesn't really benefit much from it..

corn is a shallow rooted gross feeder that needs to be planted in BLOCKS as it is wind pollinated..so you can't really reach in and pick those beans unless they are on the outside edges.

the squash and pumpkins are also huge gross feeders..so you really gotta put in a lot of food for those..

however..green beans don't like a lot of food..if you give the beans too much nitrogen you are going to get a lot of leaves and not a lot of beans..
 
Galen Johnson
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The beans that are traditionally used with the three sisters are the tepary beans.  These are not your normal bean, but a southwestern U.S. native that needs very little water and is drought-resistant and pest-resistant, too.  Black beans are teparies.  Some people get astounding amounts of bowel gas eating beans, and should try tepary beans, because (for some of us) tepary beans are far more digestible than normal beans.  Google for tepary beans to find sellers.

The Hopi and others plant the three sisters in a bunch at a low point in a large square or oval depression, the better to naturally gather rainfall to the plants.  The same dryland technique was used by the Nabateans in the Negev.

The fourth sister is variously listed as the bee plant or a sunflower.  It is part of the guild.
 
Brenda Groth
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i agree that the sunflower makes a wonderful fourth plant to this guild..i have often planted sunflowers at the edges of my corn, squash or pumpkins under and i use bush beans but would be willing to try the tepeary beans, have never grown them
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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galen wrote:Black beans are teparies...Google for tepary beans to find sellers.


It sounds as though a good grocery store's bulk section would be sufficient, if you mean that regular black beans are an appropriate choice.

I've planted beans and sunflowers from the bulk bin with good results, and I understand the raw pumpkin seeds grocery stores sell are often from a very low-maintenance variety bred specifically for seed production. They don't sell many varieties of whole corn other than popcorn, but the multi-colored popcorn seems like a good bet to have retained some adaptations to traditional methods.  $2 would probably be enough to plant a good-sized area.
 
Galen Johnson
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The corn used in traditional Three Sisters was different from the supersweet variety that most Americans grow, too.  It was field or dent corn, with soft, starchy kernels.  It was ground to make masa, the corn flour used for tamales and tortillas.  Note that all of the three sisters store well through the winter.  They have complementary proteins, too.

When pumpkin seeds are ground up, they are used in thickening mole, a traditional Aztec or Mexican sauce that is very nutritious and tastes good.  A squash can have a lot of seeds.  Don't blithely assume that you can eat seeds without checking;  apple seeds contain arsenic, for instance.  Bulk seeds can be kiln-dried and sterile, it just depends on whether they are sun-dried our not.

I have never managed to successfully get the seeds from a sunflower and eat them.  Mostly, they were just too small to bother with.  How do you do that?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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galen wrote:I have never managed to successfully get the seeds from a sunflower and eat them.  Mostly, they were just too small to bother with.  How do you do that?


The problem can be a solution:

Eat sunflower or pumpkin seeds as a way to occupy time, or to maintain your alertness during a boring task. Agent Mulder used to do so on TV.

I have read that a flour mill can be used to crack the hulls in bulk, if the stones are set at the right spacing.
 
charles c. johnson
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with some practice you can put a hand full of sunflower seeds in you mouth and just spit the shells kernels in one cheek seeds in the other shells in the middle then spit
 
Galen Johnson
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I found the following information on pumpkins grown exclusively for pepitas (pumpkin seeds). They are known as naked oil seed pumpkins or snack seed pumpkins.  Originally from Austria.  " Cucurbita pepo (L. group Pepo, Cucurbitaceae) are produced from two subspecies var. styriaca Greb. and var. oleifera Pietsch."  You can get the seeds in the U.S. from www.seedman.com.

Now, if only they were perennial.  No, I have not grown these myself.

Any one going to Nicaragua next year?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I should also mention, that the sunflower seeds I've eaten from home-grown flowers, were of a particular variety, with a seed about the size of half a pinto bean. Varieties intended for oil are said to have much smaller seeds, and much more difficult-to-remove hulls; they're ground up whole, pressed for oil, and the remaining cake used for feed.

Ornamental varieties are probably not very useful for food at all, though I bet most birds would still enjoy them.
 
                              
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TCLynx wrote:
I have not had much luck growing corn down here in the past though I haven't really tried corn in guild planting yet.  Perhaps if I can find a locally appropriate variety of corn I might try again.


Have you tried th Hawaiian Supersweet #9 ? these are open polinated, and bred for the humid tropics,  these are supposedly nematode and fungus resistant .

I plan on trying these myself this year here in the tropics.

EONSEED has them down in Hollywood Fl. you can also try and purchase them from the Univ. of Hawaii Manoa http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/seed/seeds.asp#corn th garden packs are only 1 dollar, including shipping!
they have other veggies too.

good luck
 
tel jetson
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galen wrote:
I found the following information on pumpkins grown exclusively for pepitas (pumpkin seeds). They are known as naked oil seed pumpkins or snack seed pumpkins.  Originally from Austria.   " Cucurbita pepo (L. group Pepo, Cucurbitaceae) are produced from two subspecies var. styriaca Greb. and var. oleifera Pietsch."   You can get the seeds in the U.S. from www.seedman.com.

Now, if only they were perennial.  No, I have not grown these myself.


we grew a variety sold as "Kakai".  didn't seem very much different than growing any other pumpkin.  had some nice stripes on them.  as advertised, the seeds were hull-less.  I think we bought the seeds from Johnny's, though it might be available elsewhere.  the bulk bins at your local hippie grocery would probably be the most affordable option.
 
                              
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I tried it for a couple years. Used pole beans and they climbed up the corn no problem. The corn never amounted to much but I'm not a big corn fan. I'm back to my normal "anything goes garden." I like to think of it as the animals in charge of the zoo but in this case the plants take control......... 


Jeff
 
                              
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galen wrote:
Don't blithely assume that you can eat seeds without checking;  apple seeds contain arsenic, for instance. 



I think it's cyanide but my understanding is that the cyanide is locked into a molecule. So it's in the form of a nitrilosides. The cyanide can be unlocked by an enzyme if need be.

Jeff
 
                              
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In regards to apple seeds:

I forgot to mention that I do eat my apple seeds but you don't want to eat a large quantity of them.

Out of time gotta go..


Jeff
 
Galen Johnson
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I looked it up.  Apple seeds do have cyanide rather than arsenic.  You would have to eat a great many to die from them.  However, there is no dose of poison, however low, that is good for you.  All squash seeds are edible.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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galen wrote:there is no dose of poison, however low, that is good for you.


This seems to be true of some poisons, like dioxin and thallium, and not true of others, like alcohol and copper.

I would say "no generalization holds in every case," but, being a generalization, it's obviously untrue. In any case, statements about toxicity tend to depend on context.

FWIW, cyanide is eliminated from the body relatively quickly, and is biodegradable, whereas arsenic can stay in the body for a lifetime, and the soil for centuries.
 
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