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dan long
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There is a lot of talk about how great Three Sisters is, what plants can be substituted and how it works out in an ideal situation. I am interested in how it is implemented practically.


How is it actually planted. We need a better explanation that some general "corn first then everything afterwards". How far apart is the corn spaced? How many bean seeds per corn seed? Are these bean seeds planted in the same row as the corn or are they planted in alternating rows? Perhaps they could be sown in the same hole as the corn if they didn't grow so much faster than the corn. How much elbow space is given to the squash if any? If they are planted in the center and on the corners then are they planted in their spot with no regard for the location of corn stalks and bean seeds? Or does one clear out a spot for them?

How things are sown is CRITICAL but i cant find many people talking about it. One gentleman said that the (forgot which tribe) or the southwest would plant corn 3ft apart in large blocks, but they would plant multiple seeds in one hole so that they wound up with corn bunches. They would then plant two bean seeds per corn seed (but didn't mention the location in relation to the corn bunches). They would then plant two squash seeds at each corner and in the center. However, they had lots of space and were likely planting wider than necessary. They were also walking in between the plants which i'm convinced is a big no-no.

The aforementioned method wouldn't work in a raised bed situation. Though, perhaps one could plant corn bunches in the center of a SFG style, 4x4 bed, beans around that, and squash in the corners. This is where i would start experimenting if I had an allotment to work with yet. Maybe someone with experience can lend some suggestions before i go trying to reinvent the wheel.
 
D. Logan
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My understanding was that they would plant them in a slightly raised mound with something such as a fish buried below to serve as a way to help the hungry corn along.

Corn would be planted first. Each mound was spaced about four feet apart and at the center, five to six corn kernels would be planted towards the center of the mound, but not too tightly bunched.

These would be allowed to grow to about four inches in height before you plant anything else (generally a week or two). Plant about seven or eight bean seeds around the corn on the flattened top of the mound.

After another week or so, you will want to plant your squash around the outer edge of the mound where it dips off and moves towards the ground. Again, seven or eight seeds are used.

As they will grow, you will thin the corn down to your four sturdiest stalks and thin out your beans to the five or six best. Make sure to help the beans along in entwining with the corn. Both lend one another stability, but the beans can sometimes tend to wander instead of weave. As for the squash, I have seen some people say to let them all go and others who say to thin them down. Some have gone so far as to say that you only keep the two best squash and thin the rest, but I suspect it has a lot to do with what varieties you are growing.


The wide spacing has a lot to do with the squash. As they grow, they are going to spread out heavily and fill in all the gaps around those wide openings quickly. There will be scarcely room to step without having to be very careful of them. Anyway, I hope this information has been helpful to you.
 
dan long
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More than helpful. Thank you very much for your detailed, and on-point reply.
 
Bryan Jasons
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Location: Maine
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When I used squash as a ground cover last year, sometimes planting enough to cover the ground between rows of Maize, it became impossible to walk through in places. Unfortunately we have Squash Bugs (Anasa Tristis) that would breed in the areas that I couldn't get to and they'd ruin/kill a lot of the plants. A better choice is to use the bush winter squashes, like Golden Nugget, you can actually have paths and rows and get at the Squash Bugs easily since they have less vine to hide on. I haven't tried yet, but a shorter type of Maize might provide enough sun to allow alternating rows or Squash and Maize. I'm thinking popcorn or Mandan Bride Flour.

When I planted Beans at the base of my Dent Corn last year, the Beans died. The soil is acidic here, so I think that's the problem.

Modern hybrid Dent Corn is planted at very high densities, and so that's important to consider - in the past Maize was spaced much, much farther apart. Looking at this chart, planting a foot apart is the lowest density listed, but I think that's the norm for older varieties. http://varietytrials.tennessee.edu/weightsmeasures/pdfdocs/conversions.pdf
 
dan long
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Bryan Jasons wrote:When I used squash as a ground cover last year, sometimes planting enough to cover the ground between rows of Maize, it became impossible to walk through in places. Unfortunately we have Squash Bugs (Anasa Tristis) that would breed in the areas that I couldn't get to and they'd ruin/kill a lot of the plants. A better choice is to use the bush winter squashes, like Golden Nugget, you can actually have paths and rows and get at the Squash Bugs easily since they have less vine to hide on. I haven't tried yet, but a shorter type of Maize might provide enough sun to allow alternating rows or Squash and Maize. I'm thinking popcorn or Mandan Bride Flour.

When I planted Beans at the base of my Dent Corn last year, the Beans died. The soil is acidic here, so I think that's the problem.

Modern hybrid Dent Corn is planted at very high densities, and so that's important to consider - in the past Maize was spaced much, much farther apart. Looking at this chart, planting a foot apart is the lowest density listed, but I think that's the norm for older varieties. http://varietytrials.tennessee.edu/weightsmeasures/pdfdocs/conversions.pdf


I really appreciate you sharing your experience. Sometimes problems like squash overgrowing your walkways are near impossible to foresee until you get out in the field and try it. I'm glad you are able to save me from a season of junglelike walkways and squash borers instead of having to learn the hard way.
 
Brandon Greer
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I have a PDF which I could email you if you PM me your address. It goes into detail about a few methods: The Wampanoag (supposedly what the Native Americans taught the Jamestown settlers), Hidatsa and Zuni. You might could Google those words and get a good deal of info also.
 
dan long
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Brandon Griffin wrote:I have a PDF which I could email you if you PM me your address. It goes into detail about a few methods: The Wampanoag (supposedly what the Native Americans taught the Jamestown settlers), Hidatsa and Zuni. You might could Google those words and get a good deal of info also.


I PM'ed you. Thanks. I really appreciate it!
 
Renate Howard
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The Native Americans would plant starch corn, winter squash/pumpkins, and seed beans - nothing that required going in to pick regularly. They'd leave it then come back in the fall to collect what they grew, from what I read. It's really hard to do 3 sisters of sweet corn, summer squash and green beans because it's really hard to harvest them.

I did mine in a separate bed from the garden but with the chicken wire fence the squash vines really stayed in their area. I didn't do beans, just corn and squash and was really pleased with my harvest. I grew popcorn and Indian corn, which I used to make hominy for soups and casseroles. The squash were mostly butternut, pumpkins, and cushaw, and they all did well - no borers at all. I planted the seeds at the same time, in rows about 1.5 feet apart and the seeds were about 1 foot apart. I mixed them all and just grabbed whatever and planted it as I went down the rows, trying not to plant too many of the same thing in a row. The corn came up first on its own, and the popcorn tasseled at a different time than the Indian corn so there was no issue with cross pollination.
 
Brandon Greer
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dan long wrote:
Brandon Griffin wrote:I have a PDF which I could email you if you PM me your address. It goes into detail about a few methods: The Wampanoag (supposedly what the Native Americans taught the Jamestown settlers), Hidatsa and Zuni. You might could Google those words and get a good deal of info also.


I PM'ed you. Thanks. I really appreciate it!


Hi Dan, I emailed it over to you. If you didn't get it just let me know, or check your spam.
 
Casie Becker
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We just started harvesting the corn from our modified three sisters garden today.  We planted the corn first, when it was six inches high we then planted watermelon and red long beans.

The watermelon that was supposed to take the place of squash (as a groundcover) is only now beginning to take off. I guess it just needs more heat than the corn.

The red long beans that I've planted among the corn give a few beans every day. We were careful not to cut down the stalks as we cut off ears so we can continue to harvest from the beans. Next time I'll need to try a different variety of bean.

Like the watermelon, these beans didn't do much until the temperatures were very high. I still don't know if the few beans a day is what they'll max out at, or if they're just gaining steam right now. There's a lot of flowers. Last year the same variety was much more productive, so I'm holding out hope.

I think the beans and the corn were mutually beneficial. The beans have been twinning up the corn and we had some severe thunderstorms where a couple of stalks fell over, but not the ones tied up with the beans. I don't know if they helped fertilize the corn at all, though.

While it hasn't been a rousing success, it's also been far from a failure. I don't growing these together hurt the development of any of these plants, it was just a matter of different growing patterns.

My next experiment in this vein will depend on whether my niece wants to grow corn again. If she wants to replant some of her harvest for a fall crop, I think we'll plant it in the same bed and let the new corn benefit from the summer shade under the old corn and beans before it grows up through them. Maybe the watermelon will cover enough of the bed by that point to be a successful ground cover.

If she's not interested then the next time I feel like planting corn I'll probably start with different species in my ground covers and beans.  Especially if I'm doing a fall harvest, I think sweet potato would actually be a likely option.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm having the same experience with Red Noodle beans - they are not bearing heavily, just a few beans a day and they seem to quickly become overmature if not picked literally every day, which does not result in enough beans for a meal unless saved over a few days in the fridge.
 
Casie Becker
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I'm not sure what's different between this year and last year. To me the weather pattern seems very similar. That's why I'm hoping they're about to pick up productivity. Last year I was harvesting so many that not only did we have to eat generous amounts every day, I actually pickled more than a gallons worth.

Although, as I think about it, I first started pickling them as a way to accumulate enough to make a full meals worth at a time. I think that adds to the idea that more productivity is in store. The plants were certainly covered in flowers this morning.

(They do make great fridge pickles)
 
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