Win a copy of Bioshelter Market Garden this week in the Market Garden forum!
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • James Freyr
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Anne Miller
  • r ranson
  • Mike Jay Haasl
  • Dave Burton
  • Pearl Sutton
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Joseph Lofthouse
garden masters:
  • Steve Thorn
gardeners:
  • Dan Boone
  • Carla Burke
  • Kate Downham

Logistics of 3 Sisters Garden

 
Posts: 270
Location: 1 Hour Northeast Of Dallas
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've never successfully grown a 3 sisters garden (or anything for that matter), so I don't quite know how it will work out with regard to timing and harvests. As I understand I won't be able to venture into the mix to harvest anything until it's all finished so choosing the right plants and timing them correctly so they all finish about the same time is important.

Really all I know right now is that I am leaning toward Cherokee white flour corn. Some sites say it's 110 to 115 days another site says 120 days.

To my questions:

1. I've read that field corn is left in the field to dry before harvest. If the beans and squash are ready before the field corn dries, can the beans be harvested while leaving the corn in tact to finish drying? Or is that not practical? From what I understand it's just important not to try to harvest until the squash is ready because they don't like being stepped on.

2. Can anyone recommend a pinto pole bean that will go well with the Cherokee white flour corn?

3. When looking at the days till harvest for a dry bean does this include the drying period in the field?

4. I've read to plant the corn first, let it grow to 4 inches then plant the beans and squash. Does this sound about right?

 
steward
Posts: 4725
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
1592
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator


Did any Native American actually plant a 3 sisters garden in the way the Internet rumors say they did?
Has any descendent of colonists successfully planted a 3 sisters garden?

I observe plenty of people writing about planting 3 sisters gardens with the crops all jumbled up together. I see few follow-up posts bragging about how successful they are... I have plenty of squash and bean weeds that sprout in the corn patch... One year I let them grow. It was a mess. Not something that I would do to myself intentionally. The vines smother the corn and pull it down. The corn shades out the other crops. The jumbled up mess interferes with weeding and harvest. The squash out-competes the other crops and robs nutrients from them. From what I've seen, I think that most people way over-plant 3 sisters beds.

I know one Hopi farmer. She plants corn, squash, and bush beans in the same field, but not all jumbled up one on top of another... I don't mind growing a row of squash next to a row of corn (6 feet away). By the time the squash reaches the corn patch the corn is far enough ahead to make a crop.

In my climate, I'd put Cherokee White Flour corn at around 120 DTM.

Ease of harvest depends on the size of the planting... Labor doesn't matter in small plantings. I grow around 500 squash plants per year, and 2000 beans, and 10,000 corn plants, so I don't want to fiddle with picking individual pods of beans from off a corn plant. When I plant beans by themselves I can snip off the vines, throw them on a tarp, and jump up and down on them to thresh. I am picking entire plants at once rather than single pods. It's really time consuming to try to pick a cob of corn that is laying on the ground wrapped in bean vines and obscured by squash leaves.

It's straight forward enough to pick beans or harvest squash out of the corn patch if the corn isn't dry yet. Flour corn, dry beans, and winter squash are crops that I typically harvest at about the same time due to frost, so damage during harvest isn't an issue.
 
Brandon Greer
Posts: 270
Location: 1 Hour Northeast Of Dallas
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I certainly can't speak from experience. I can only say that I kinda had hoped the rumors were true...it looks like a cool idea!

Ann Torrence here on this site did make a blog post (http://www.anntorrence.com/blog/2013/11/painted-mountain-corn-for-thanksgiving.html) which seems to record an account of at least moderate success.
 
Posts: 3380
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
38
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Those that seem to have success pay attention to timing and maturity for their microclimate. Not planting all at once, but letting the corn get a head start and time the harvest to all be about the same time.

I haven't...
 
Posts: 278
Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Turns out I just discovered a successful 3 sisters farmer this week. She was featured on the INHABIT permaculture movie - Salamander Springs Farm: Susana's Perma-organics.

Permaculture workshop slides 2014 jpg.031 by Salamander Springs Farm: Susana's Perma-organics, on Flickr
 
steward
Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
120
goat duck trees books chicken bee
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Beans that don't shatter (spontaneously open) is the key to harvesting this mess. I'm trying a bunch of new-to-me beans from Native Seeds/SEARCH, like this Taos red pole bean.

4" sounds about right. One great thing about that Painted Mountain corn is it can go into 50 degree soil. That gains me a couple weeks on the whole operation.

And Joseph is spot on - I do this in a space about 10x20. If I had to grow for subsistence or market, I would modify it for ease of cultivation, etc. From what I recall about the southwest natives who used similar growing techniques, these fields were planted before the monsoons of mid-summer, but then they went on their seasonal migration to higher altitudes, so the fields didn't get much tending until they cycled back in the fall for harvest.
 
Brandon Greer
Posts: 270
Location: 1 Hour Northeast Of Dallas
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Ann Torrence wrote:Beans that don't shatter (spontaneously open) is the key to harvesting this mess. I'm trying a bunch of new-to-me beans from Native Seeds/SEARCH, like this Taos red pole bean.

4" sounds about right. One great thing about that Painted Mountain corn is it can go into 50 degree soil. That gains me a couple weeks on the whole operation.

And Joseph is spot on - I do this in a space about 10x20. If I had to grow for subsistence or market, I would modify it for ease of cultivation, etc. From what I recall about the southwest natives who used similar growing techniques, these fields were planted before the monsoons of mid-summer, but then they went on their seasonal migration to higher altitudes, so the fields didn't get much tending until they cycled back in the fall for harvest.



Do you know if rattlesnake beans shatter?
 
Ann Torrence
steward
Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
120
goat duck trees books chicken bee
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Brandon Greer wrote:Do you know if rattlesnake beans shatter?


Nope, haven't tried them yet. Maybe you will and report back!
 
Posts: 2
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I did grow corn and beans together and while the deer got my corn - and there was plenty for them to get - the beans were very successful. I waited until the corn was a foot or so high before putting in the beans. I used speckled cranberry beans. http://www.seedsavers.org/onlinestore/bean/Bean-Speckled-Cranberry-OG.html They a big, tender beans and the pods are gorgeous when they are young. I waited for them to dry (the deer apparently didn't care for them) and shelled them in fall. I'm going to try adding squash this year.
 
Posts: 323
Location: Pittsburgh PA
17
duck forest garden fungi trees chicken woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Coming from the region that three sisters originated, yes its very doable in the right climate. A common mistake is to use intensive gardening methods when trying to achieve a three sisters planting. Will not work, Intensively, the tree sisters systems where small scale, cleared forest openings, roughly planted, with tons of fish, on charcoal rich forest floors. And guess where you peed. Keep in mind also, the indigenous seeds. If you want to make a three sisters garden, i recommend this native American seed collector, breeder, and expert, http://goodmindseeds.org/
 
pollinator
Posts: 1530
Location: northern California
153
  • Likes 8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have had success with three sisters gardens, and derivations on them, in Georgia for years. The main point to bear in mind is that the goal was durable, storable produce for winter use and beyond....in other words dry corn, dry beans, and hard-shelled winter squash. Yes, it grows up into an impenetrable jungle....that's the point.....the space is fully occupied, "stacked and packed", giving weeds minimal opportunity to get a foothold. You go in and harvest everything at once after first frost kills all the green growth down. The corn must be planted first, and I would say it should be a foot or two tall, before adding the others....but this is in the South with plenty of growing season....perhaps it needs to be closer together in time further north. The danger is the bean vines, or even the squash, overwhelming the corn before it gets a chance to grow up. Even later on, vigorous bean vines can break down the corn. So you need good old heirlooms with stout tall stalks....things like "Hickory King" or "Sweet Bay". Wimpy 5 foot sweet corns or short hybrid popcorns and such like won't do. Layout helps too. Don't plant the corn in rows. Plant it in "hills"....that is, groups of 3-4 stalks together, then leave 3-4 feet of space either way to the next hill. The bean vines tangle the stalks together and make a strong support. If your beans look extra vigorous and likely to break the corn down, tying the cornstalks together near the top, sort of like a tipi, adds extra strength.
When you have it down, it's a fun design to play with, changing spacing, planting times, and adding or substituting other things.... Largely it's a matter of architecture, and similar plants can be added or exchanged as desired. Sunflowers, especially the tall ones, might have been used traditonally, and fit in very well, making a stronger support for beans than corn does. Vining cowpeas do as well, or even better (especially far South) than ordinary dry pole beans....they seem more tolerant of rain and humidity as they are maturing. The ground cover can be just about any cucurbit, although most of the others (melons, etc.) need to be harvested fresh which means thrashing in there to pick them. So plant them along the edges of the patch. Sweet potatoes are another possibility....... The Central American version of this idea is called milpa, and just about everything went into it....tomatoes, peppers, and such, and tropical perennials like banana and papaya and sugar cane, which eventually filled up the space while the annuals went on to a new plot......
 
Brandon Greer
Posts: 270
Location: 1 Hour Northeast Of Dallas
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for all the latest replies. Great info!

Alder Burns wrote:I have had success with three sisters gardens, and derivations on them, in Georgia for years. The main point to bear in mind is that the goal was durable, storable produce for winter use and beyond....in other words dry corn, dry beans, and hard-shelled winter squash. Yes, it grows up into an impenetrable jungle....that's the point.....the space is fully occupied, "stacked and packed", giving weeds minimal opportunity to get a foothold. You go in and harvest everything at once after first frost kills all the green growth down. The corn must be planted first, and I would say it should be a foot or two tall, before adding the others....but this is in the South with plenty of growing season....perhaps it needs to be closer together in time further north. The danger is the bean vines, or even the squash, overwhelming the corn before it gets a chance to grow up. Even later on, vigorous bean vines can break down the corn. So you need good old heirlooms with stout tall stalks....things like "Hickory King" or "Sweet Bay". Wimpy 5 foot sweet corns or short hybrid popcorns and such like won't do. Layout helps too. Don't plant the corn in rows. Plant it in "hills"....that is, groups of 3-4 stalks together, then leave 3-4 feet of space either way to the next hill. The bean vines tangle the stalks together and make a strong support. If your beans look extra vigorous and likely to break the corn down, tying the cornstalks together near the top, sort of like a tipi, adds extra strength.
When you have it down, it's a fun design to play with, changing spacing, planting times, and adding or substituting other things.... Largely it's a matter of architecture, and similar plants can be added or exchanged as desired. Sunflowers, especially the tall ones, might have been used traditonally, and fit in very well, making a stronger support for beans than corn does. Vining cowpeas do as well, or even better (especially far South) than ordinary dry pole beans....they seem more tolerant of rain and humidity as they are maturing. The ground cover can be just about any cucurbit, although most of the others (melons, etc.) need to be harvested fresh which means thrashing in there to pick them. So plant them along the edges of the patch. Sweet potatoes are another possibility....... The Central American version of this idea is called milpa, and just about everything went into it....tomatoes, peppers, and such, and tropical perennials like banana and papaya and sugar cane, which eventually filled up the space while the annuals went on to a new plot......



According to what you've written here, I may have planted my beans too early. I planted when the corn was about 4 to 6 inches inches tall. Now that the beans have sprung up I am worried. They are now about half the height of the corn in just a few short days.

Currently, I have everything planted in mounds with 4 ft center-to-center spacing for the corn and one bean for every corn planted halfway down the same mound. The squash, cucumber and watermelon mounds are staggered in between the corn mounds. The cucumber and watermelon are only planted around the far edges because I anticipate harvesting those before the rest is ready.

I planted 4 Cherokee White Flour corn seeds per mound(replaced my Ried's Dent Corn) and GaGa Hut Pinto Pole beans in the inner parts and Rattlesnake Beans around the edges so I could pick some greens throughout the season.

So I wonder if I should remove the beans and start again when the corn is taller. What do you think?
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1530
Location: northern California
153
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you have seed to spare and don't mind the sacrifice, try both and more! Pull up a few hills worth of the beans and wait and replant. On some of the hills, nip out the growing point of the beans when they start to vine, which will slow them down while the grow a new tip out from lower down. And leave a few just as you have them to see what happens! Each design, and each combination of varieties, will be subtly different. If you have access to them you could poke some tall sticks in and train the bean vines onto these and then they can go back to the corn as it overtops them......
 
pollinator
Posts: 643
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
122
goat dog forest garden duck trees books chicken food preservation cooking woodworking homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Purple-podded pole beans do really well in my area -- hold on the vine and stay tender even when huge (because I didn't see them). The young ones are great fresh, but if you're after dry beans, these stay zipped shut and won't even self sow readily in spring if you miss a few at harvest. So... I'd say they are not prone to shattering. Tepary beans are just the opposite. Nice little beans, but they pop open the second they get dry.
 
chad Christopher
Posts: 323
Location: Pittsburgh PA
17
duck forest garden fungi trees chicken woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Since there is a new spark, amaranth, sun choke, sun flower all work as the trellises. Most squash, small cucumbers, nasturtiums, work. Hawaiian woodrose if you want a littlembit of medicine. It is not necessarily the exact corn squash bean system that made the 3 sisters. But the IDEA. Anywho. It is a great system, but not a business plan. I view 3 sisters as a novelty moniker. The same way every permaculture home has a herb spiral. But i highly respect the 3 sister methodology.
 
Posts: 73
Location: Nova Scotia
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Is the squash element of the three sisters meant to provide the beans protection from invasive deer?

I came to this conclusion this summer from observing a 3 sisters garden on a hillside swale. Lots of beans, some corn with the odd pumpkin sprouted (survived/ never watered) during our dry spring/summer. With no protection from deer, a group came along and wiped out all of the exposed beans but those under the pumpkins canopy flourished. The corn became stunted and didn't seem appealing to them. For the last month the beans within the pumpkins canopy provided a good yield with a continual nightly deer presence.

Any thoughts?
 
Posts: 155
Location: Dayton, Ohio
47
forest garden foraging urban food preservation fiber arts ungarbage
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Brandon Greer wrote:
2. Can anyone recommend a pinto pole bean that will go well with the Cherokee white flour corn?



I don't know of any cherokee pinto pole beans, but I am aware of an early-bearing day-neutral black pole bean called Cherokee Trail of Tears. I have grown it myself in. southwest Ohio with excellent results.

https://www.rareseeds.com/cherokee-trail-of-tears/

If you still live in the Dallas, Texas area like your profile says, I would suggest you look through the Native Seeds web page to find a landrace variety of pinto pole bean. You shouldn't have to worry as much about the plants not being day-neutral if your growing season is long enough.
 
Posts: 409
Location: Portlandish, Oregon
24
forest garden fungi foraging
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Has any descendent of colonists successfully planted a 3 sisters garden?



I guess this is where I chime in. I have had mixed success. To put it simply it’s never completely failed me. I even had one great year where I harvested way more than should be possible in the square footage! Unfortunately I have no pictures, but hope to document next years growing.

There are a few tricks to three sisters and I’m not certain it would work for everyone or anyone with subpar genetics. The first trick is only winter storage varieties. You want to harvest all three at the same time. The second trick is a very hardy and fast growing/slow maturing corn. It must be planted about a month before beans or squash.

Cons: you have to plant dense and it’s slow to take apart at seasons end.
 
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
724
hugelkultur kids forest garden fungi trees books bike homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I found this site to have a better description than most about how to plant the 3 sisters system. My understanding is they are following the traditional planting setup which is different from what other sites seem to talk about when discussing the 3 sisters method.

http://blogs.cornell.edu/garden/lessons/curricula/the-three-sisters-exploring-an-iroquois-garden/how-to-plant-the-three-sisters/



In this picture, for example (corn = circle, square = beans, triangle = squash) you can see the way corn and beans were planted together on small mounds. Then every 7th mound had squash planted too.



Here is another alternative. In this one the squash are kept separate but growing in the same general area.

With both layouts 7 corn plants were planted in a clump with just 4 beans planted on the edges. Squash seems to be kept to certain areas which would make it more manageable.

I have also read some info about other plants being grown with the 3 sisters. I was thinking about trying mache (corn sald) or miners lettuce. Both are greens that come up early, reseed and die back in the summer heat. I also thought about including camas. The timing of everything would be the biggest question but it could work.

I might give one of the layouts a try next year. I'm planning on creating a corn patch and it could be fun to try the 3 sisters method. If not next year then sometime in the future I want to give it a go. Once I do I will share my results.
 
Enjoy the full beauty of the english language. Embedded in this tiny ad:
WORK/TRADE OPPORTUNITY IN THE BEAUTIFUL SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS OF CALIFORNIA
https://permies.com/t/119378/WORK-TRADE-OPPORTUNITY-BEAUTIFUL-SANTA
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!