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Balancing fertility in Three Sisters garden  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 513
Location: Missouri Ozarks
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I have a 1/4-acre patch that has been seeded in the traditional Three Sisters of corn, beans, and squash.  I'm trying to transition over to a no-till system, and the first step in that direction was a heavy mulching around the hills.  Out of 15 rows of hills, I was able to mulch the first three rows, some with manured bedding from a local goat dairy, and some with chicken and duck brooder bedding.  After those three rows, I ran out of mulch material, and got busy with other things otherwise.

The corn plants in those first three rows, as might be expected, are decidedly taller and darker green than the remainder of the plants, the result of plenty of nitrogen.  My concern, though, is that a high-nitrogen level (that is, a nitrogen level that is sufficient for heavy feeders like corn and squash) might adversely affect the beans, causing them to grow lush plants but few actual bean pods.

Any thoughts?  Will the corn and squash use up the available nitrogen, allowing the bean plants to produce adequately, or is a fertile piece of ground in a Three Sisters planting likely to favor the corn and squash at the expense of the beans?
 
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Bush beans are planted a month before corn,but only near,pole beans are planted a month after,directly under corn. No nitrogen excess under corn. Bush get diferent fertalization. Cant consider that level of nutrient imort sustainable but i dont know where alll this bedding commes from or how the animals are fed. I import almost no nutrients (air and wind and water do that, microbes eat rocks) To deal with nitrogen shortage I foliar with urin (add touch of wood ash) There is a great deal more then three sisters in a traditional Mayan corn field.  Of course, i have a great deal to learn and this year most of my no-til corn fell over due to weather, high nitrogen low potasium, I think, add more wood ash? ps, highland Mayan flour corn reaches 20' durring its seven month growth.
 
Posts: 199
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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This is a Seneca story I was told. Whether it is true or not, I do not know. ...But, if you think about it a bit, you can tell it was true.

A long time ago the People lived a happy life. Their longhouses were warm and dry. They lived at peace with their neighbors. Their gardens grew well, and supplied them with plenty of good tasting and healthy food.

Every year they planted the Three Sisters. Corn grew tall, providing a strong place for Bean to grow up. The Beans helped Corn stand if a wind came. And Squash grew all around the feet of Corn and Bean, protecting them from Four Leggeds who might want to eat them. Every year the Three grew well. But, the Standing Upright People began to notice that each year the Three Sisters grew just a bit less well. This concerned the Standing Upright People. And they wondered what they should do.

When some Seasons had passed, the Chief of the Heron People noticed the problem of the Sisters. Heron Chief then decided to go to the Chief of the Upright People and ask if they would like some help. The Standing Upright Chief thanked Heron and asked him to sit, and eat and talk and maybe smoke Pipe. Heron Chief then told the story of Fish. Heron told Upright that if he would tell his People to place a fish in the hole when they planted their seed, the Three Sisters would be happy and grow much better that year.

And that is how the Standing Upright People learned the Lesson of how to fertilize their crops. They Honored this Lesson so much that they asked permission, of the Heron People, to call themselves the Heron Clan. And so the Heron Clan People received their name, and they knew a Lesson they could teach all the other Clans. And so the Heron Clan became the teachers of farming and how to grow strong healthy foods. And to this day, the Heron Clan continues and has as its Lesson, the Story of Heron who came to help them, and the Lesson Heron taught.

....So, to your question Wes. If you decide to plant the Three Sisters, maybe you might think a bit as the Original People thought. Observe your plants. Watch if they are happy. Fertilize as they want. Just because they speak a somewhat different language than you do, there is no reason to hesitate to ask them. And if it is right, use one "fish" if appropriate, use no more if not.


 
Wes Hunter
pollinator
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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Oh, parts of my farm/garden could use a lake's worth of fish.  That's not the question.  My concern is whether or not a large(ish) quantity of added fertility will be effectively absorbed/used by the fertility-hungry corn and squash, or if the less-fertility-hungry beans will (be able to) consume too much of it and put on a lot of lush vine growth at the expense of actual bean/pod production.  In other words, will the corn and squash be greedy enough to keep the beans a little hungry, or will the beans belly up to the manure bar with equal gusto?

At this point it's just a mental exercise, I suppose, as the field is planted and is nearing harvest in the next 6 weeks, give or take.  I'll hopefully have a decent answer to my question once I get in there and sort everything out, but I appreciate the responses.
 
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Location: The Palouse
bee books hugelkultur
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My understanding is that it would take a great deal of nitrogen to actually cause the beans a problem- I think the bigger issue is that they don't add more nitrogen if they don't have to so you aren't getting the full benefit of the nitrogen fixation.

i believe in a no-till three sisters garden if you leave the stuff in the field the fertility should stay there and increase. it's a very balanced system. Though obviously adding a good mulch in the fall and again shortly after planting is always helpful.

And while the Indians did use fish as a fertilizer, my understanding is they only did that in areas with fertility problems, it wasn't the standard practice.
 
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