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Three Sisters Planting Question  RSS feed

 
Posts: 38
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
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Hi All!

This is my first year planting the Three Sisters and unfortunately I only have a 5' x 8' space to work with so I'm hoping for some feedback from more experienced gardeners.

The bed is sited on the south side of my house so I'm going to try a row crop variation of the traditional mound technique. Corn will be planted in double rows with 9" between plants and 2' between the double rows (expecting to be able to fit two double rows in my space). Pole beans will be planted along the south face of the rows.

My question is, would it be better to plant the squash in the back and train it to vine out between the corn to the southern edge of the bed or plant it on the southern edge and train it back and forth?

Thanks!
 
gardener
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If you plant squash on the most shaded side of the corn it will have a tendency to reach for the sun. That could save some labor in encouraging it to naturally vine through the plants. Unfortunately that could be a tendency to try to climb your corn, so watch for that.
 
Jay Colli
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Thanks Casie! I was thinking along the same lines... I’m going to give it a try and see how it works out for me.
 
pollinator
Posts: 558
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Interesting. Novia Scotia & a 5x8 space. With presumably a short squash growing season. One strong squash or pumpkin plant would fill the entire area. Have you considered some sort of trellis for extra squash? Perhaps on the east, west, & north sides.
 
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What if you plant a squash like zucchini or crooked-neck that doesn't really vine? I think the original three sisters used pumpkins and more "winter squash" kinds of plants, but we have choices. Zucchini tends to stay where you put it - and that can be helpful. Good luck with your garden! We just planted one with the students at school (which is a little sad since we're just getting ready to break for the summer).
 
Jay Colli
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Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
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Mike Barkley wrote:Interesting. Novia Scotia & a 5x8 space. With presumably a short squash growing season. One strong squash or pumpkin plant would fill the entire area. Have you considered some sort of trellis for extra squash? Perhaps on the east, west, & north sides.



Hey Mike, thanks for the reply! Generally we only have about 110 frost free days per year so it's a fairly short season! It's my first time growing the variety I've chosen for this year (Baby Blue Hubbard) so I'm not sure how vigorous the growth will be but I intend to do a bit of vine pruning and limit the growth to 1 fruit per plant. Unfortunately the bed is shaded by my house and a shed on the north and east sides so their isn't much additional sun coming in other than from the south and west so I don't know if a trellis would be of noticeable benefit or not... The bed is actually 8x8 but I was going to try and limit the sisters to a 5x8 section of it. I have broad beans, broccoli and brussels growing in the front 3x8 section of the bed and I could always train the vines out between them if the Hubbard foliage isn't too large. Would the beans and brassicas benefit from having their bases shaded or would this just encourage pests I wonder?

Kim Arnold wrote:What if you plant a squash like zucchini or crooked-neck that doesn't really vine? I think the original three sisters used pumpkins and more "winter squash" kinds of plants, but we have choices. Zucchini tends to stay where you put it - and that can be helpful. Good luck with your garden! We just planted one with the students at school (which is a little sad since we're just getting ready to break for the summer).



Hey Kim, zucchini would really be ideal for "row cropping" three sisters but I'm desperate for some of this variety of squash since it's nearly impossible to find in store or at farmer's markets and this is the only space I have to work with this year. My poor zucchini are confined to 10 gal pots for 2018.
 
pollinator
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I second the earlier thought. I would be careful to suit the species of squash to your season length, and perhaps something that will spread a bit from it's original footprint but doesn't really vine would be best. You'd have to plant more individual plants, but the yields off each should be increased and accelerated, with less vegetative growing needed.

I would also keep in mind that corn is wind-pollinated, so if your plants are spaced too far apart, you might have pollination issues. The last time I grew in the Three Sisters style, I did staggered double rows, such that the placement of plants between the two rows was offset. That way, the whole planting caught more of the breeze, filtering through rather than blowing around the plants through the spaces between.

I was also working with a smaller-leaved heirloom of squash related to the butternut, called the honey nut, which produced squash about 2/3rds the size of my typical butternut squash (so only about 12", as opposed to the usual 18"). It had slightly smaller leaves, so I decreased the space between double rows to one and a half feet.

I like to plant my squash on the shaded side of each doubled row, to grow through the staggered double rows of corn and to use the space between doubled rows as overflow. I have had younger corn plants smothered by aggressive squash, but then beans can do the same. It really is necessary to watch if managing it intensively to minimise losses, at least until the corn is tall enough.

Also, after a lackluster pollinator year in which I saw far fewer squash than the flowers had suggested, I started adding guilds of plants that would be in flower throughout the season, to increase local pollinator populations by feeding them. I no longer have that issue, and I benefit from other crops including, but not limited to, raspberries and mulberries, as well as sunflowers. There are a variety of medicinals and herbs that I encourage primarily for their benefit to pollinators as well.

Sounds like you have a workable plan, though. Let us know how you proceed, and good luck!

-CK
 
Jay Colli
Posts: 38
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
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Chris Kott wrote:I second the earlier thought. I would be careful to suit the species of squash to your season length, and perhaps something that will spread a bit from it's original footprint but doesn't really vine would be best. You'd have to plant more individual plants, but the yields off each should be increased and accelerated, with less vegetative growing needed.

I would also keep in mind that corn is wind-pollinated, so if your plants are spaced too far apart, you might have pollination issues. The last time I grew in the Three Sisters style, I did staggered double rows, such that the placement of plants between the two rows was offset. That way, the whole planting caught more of the breeze, filtering through rather than blowing around the plants through the spaces between.

I was also working with a smaller-leaved heirloom of squash related to the butternut, called the honey nut, which produced squash about 2/3rds the size of my typical butternut squash (so only about 12", as opposed to the usual 18"). It had slightly smaller leaves, so I decreased the space between double rows to one and a half feet.

I like to plant my squash on the shaded side of each doubled row, to grow through the staggered double rows of corn and to use the space between doubled rows as overflow. I have had younger corn plants smothered by aggressive squash, but then beans can do the same. It really is necessary to watch if managing it intensively to minimise losses, at least until the corn is tall enough.

Also, after a lackluster pollinator year in which I saw far fewer squash than the flowers had suggested, I started adding guilds of plants that would be in flower throughout the season, to increase local pollinator populations by feeding them. I no longer have that issue, and I benefit from other crops including, but not limited to, raspberries and mulberries, as well as sunflowers. There are a variety of medicinals and herbs that I encourage primarily for their benefit to pollinators as well.

Sounds like you have a workable plan, though. Let us know how you proceed, and good luck!

-CK



Hi Chris, thanks for the reply!

A friend slightly further inland successfully grew this variety of squash last year when planted from seed the first week of June and I will be planting my 5-week old transplants this weekend so I'm fairly confident that with a 110-115 days to maturity listing on the seed package I should be able to manage a fully-formed fruit from each plant but who really knows what the whether is going to do year-to-year here in the maritimes haha. My friend didn't recall whether or not the leaves were any smaller than the leaves of more typical market squash (acorn, butternut, buttercup, ect) but since this is a smaller hybrid of the regular Hubbard I'm hoping that they will be.

I like your method! I think that for next year I'll adjust my planting scheme to mimic your's but for this year I'll have my 4 squash equally spaced 1' out in front of the southern-most row of corn with 2' between the squash plants. I'll try training 2 of the squash back into the block of corn and I'll leave the other two out front. I suspect the two that I leave out front will produce larger fruits but as long as the trained vines produce edible fruit I'll consider it a success.

My block of corn will consist of 48 plants in 6 staggered rows of 8 with 9" between the plants in all directions. I suspect this will be too dense for the trained squash to receive any usable amount of light from within the block but I won't starve is this experiment fails so mays'll try it and find out!

I'm planting tomorrow so I'll post pictures once I'm done.
 
Kim Arnold
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Sounds like you are set on hubbard squash. I get that. It's awesome, and if you can't buy it you have no choice but to grow it. My inclination would be to plant it on the shady side and guide it as it naturally grows toward the sun. But the only way to really know which is "best" for your particular case would be to plant some on each side and see how it works out. Why not?

Wishing you a bountiful harvest!
 
Mike Barkley
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I mentioned the trellis as a way to perhaps have a few more squash in the same footprint. As mentioned a few times already ... the right squash for your particular area & season seems most crucial.

Brassicas are sturdy plants. They won't mind some low level squash leaves.

Someone mentioned pumpkins. Seminole Indians grew them up trees. Seems like a squash could too.
 
Kim Arnold
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I did not know about pumpkins growing up trees. That must have been a sight! Kind of makes me want to try it...

Thanks!
 
Jay Colli
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Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
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Thanks again for all the tips and discussion everyone! Here's the result:

Corn in the back ("mushroom" variety grown for popcorn) with two sugar snap peas planted for each of the corn stalks in the front two rows. Hubbard squash are planted with perforated 500mL water bottles for direct watering to the roots. The black fabric is geotextile used for septic systems. It's ultra-tough (that stuff is in it's 3rd year of garden use) but permeable. I still have to make some cloches out of curtain sheer material to keep the cucumber beetles off while they get established but I haven't decided how I'm going to do that quite yet...

I'm going to plant a staggered double-row of broccoli towards the front of the bed; hopefully they won't compete too much with one another. I'll be mulching over the geotextile with dried grass clippings to keep the brassica roots cooler.

3sisters.jpg
[Thumbnail for 3sisters.jpg]
 
Mike Barkley
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I'd bet that garden does well. Looks good. I'd plant a few more peas though. But what do I know? ... my corn didn't sprout this year Not one. So it's mostly a 2 sister year with several different kinds of squash, pumpkins, cukes, & beans. Good luck!

 
Jay Colli
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Mike Barkley wrote:I'd bet that garden does well. Looks good. I'd plant a few more peas though. But what do I know? ... my corn didn't sprout this year Not one. So it's mostly a 2 sister year with several different kinds of squash, pumpkins, cukes, & beans. Good luck!



Thanks Mike! The corn is showing a bit of stress from the transplanting but we've had lots of showers followed by sun and good temps over the last few days so I expect it to take off pretty soon. I have some scarlet runner beans that I'm going to add into the mix to help attract pollinators for the squash, which are taking to their new digs very well btw! I don't have my row cover on the squash yet and ever day is a gamble with the cuke beetles so I want to get that done ASAP, but first I need to deal with the slugs that are present and the vine borers that could really do a number on the plants as well... Lots of pests that want some of my squash!

I have a row of "Gypsy" broccoli planted out in front and I may add a row of mid-summer brussel sprouts between the broccoli and the squash if the space is available but looking at things now I'm guessing that the squash and broccoli will be all I can fit without crowding the space too much. I'll post updates when I think it might be of interest.
 
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