I wanted to try planting "three sisters" this year in the backyard. I will be planting sweet corn(I live in NJ), pole beans, and zucchini. I only have a family of four. I don't have beds for planting these yet and I don't know how much square footage I need and how the "sisters" should be positioned relative to one another. Can someone tell me how I should go about doing this?
Most original native "three sisters" (and many actually included other planth such as sunflowers, cleome, etc.) were planted for dry storage yields all gathered together in the autumn.....in other words dry mature corn, as for corn meal, dry pole beans....think pintos, kidneys, limas, etc. and mature winter squash like acorn or butternut. One of the points, and beauties, of this system is that when it works, it's a complete jungle, completely stacked and packed so that weeds hardly find a spot. Then when frost comes you go in and gather all the stuff at the same time. I think you will probably find the jungle difficult to work in when attempting it with varieties of all three species for "immature" harvest. Maybe try several long beds with pathways between, so you can sort of reach in.
Another crucial tip is timing. Plant the corn first and let it get a foot or two tall, and then plant the others. That way it stays ahead and doesn't get smothered and broken down by the vines. A very good way is to plant the corn in groups of four or so plants close together, with four feet plus each way to the next clump. If the bean vines get overwhelming, tie the cornstalks together at the top like a tipi and this will be much stronger. Most sweet corn is pretty short.....I find it works best with a tall, heirloom field corn, some of which can reach ten feet or more.....
I've grown the 3 sisters alot and I have found that if you actually want to get squash you need to increase the space between corn to about 3 feet in all directions. furthermore if it's beans you want than peach trees are a far better host than corn because if beans are planted at the same time as corn they will be 3 feet long when the corn is 1.5 feet high, this stunts the plant. If you have no small trees you can "prepare" some ground then pile up pruning waste branches. The wider the spread of the branches the better. Pile then side ways because "what is down can not fall" a pile 3 feet high will help the beans enough to get above the weeds and shade them out. squash will also do far better if you plant them near a pile of brush they can climb. Unless you have alot of space it is really not worth growing corn at all.
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
posted 5 years ago
I would avoid 'three sisters' for anything other than storage crops; I find it's impossible to harvest without damaging things
I don't grow corn. I can't be bothered grinding it, and it takes too much out of my sandy soil anyway.
Another alternative to corn is giant sunflowers as beanpoles.
I know sunflowers are supposed to be allelopathic, but I've never had a problem with them.
I've had good crops of 'Anasazi', a traditional drying bean.
Location: Some where in the universe in space and time.
posted 5 years ago
Go for it. The three sisters is a basic design element that worked for the indiginous people of northern America long before the europeans arrived. The practice and the results can very greatly depending on who taught you how to garden. One of the things people tend to forget is that the natives put the waste from thier fishing in the hole they were growing in. Thus nitrogen and fertilzer were taken care of. If you are not satisfied with the results, change the plants up but keep the basic types of plants together. Have a great day.
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