‘Three Sisters’ planting (sweetcorn, beans and squash)

I have taken in the lesson to grow what you eat and also to grow things that taste infinitely better home grown than bought, so for the first time I am growing sweetcorn.  They say it looses it’s sweetness every minute after picking so you can never get bought corn that tastes as good as home grown, the main problem is that corn is wind pollinated with the male flowers at the top showering pollen down onto the females below, so they need to be planted in a block and need quite  lot of space (and full sun!).  You can also only plant one variety (if planting a supersweet kind) as cross pollination causes the ears of corn not to develop properly.  I decided to plant ‘sweet nugget’ (I also fancied strawberry popcorn, which looks just like a strawberry and is intended for popcorn by putting the whole cob into the microwave) which went into 15cm pots in april in the greenhouse.  They hate frost so you cannot plant them out too early but they also hate root disturbance (and the roots were coming through the bottom of my pots) so I decided to plant them out a last week.

To make the most of the space I decided to try the ‘Three Sisters’ planting method.  This is (my translation) of a Native American way of planting and involves planting corn, beans and squash together. Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb, beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot and also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing moisture loss.  Apparently.

Corn needs to be planted 40cm apart  and ideally in a block of at least 4 rows by 4 (so 16 plants).  As my raised beds are only 120 wide I am chancing it a bit by planting 12 corns, 3 rows by 4…we’ll see if I can get away with it.  Once the corn is about 30cm high I am going to plant a couple of beans next to each corn and a single  squash ‘turks turban’ underneath.  

I am already panicking re-reading my info to write this post as everyone says you must have a minimum of 4, by 4 or you will get bald areas on the kernels.  Humm…Anyhow, I will have to remove the cloches soon as many of the corn has reached the tops and I don’t want to hinder the growth, so we’ll see!

ALL CHANGE. The kids are in bed and I have been reading a few gardening forums, the general chat is that it doesn’t work here in the UK.  The main problem is that the beans grown quicker than the corn and also climb about so much that it makes everything difficult to pick.  I had already realised that you are better to plant a bean you plan to leave to dry but I guess the Native Indians probably let the whole lot dry and I want to eat my corn fresh, so instead I am going to just plant corn and a single squash, that way it has a better chance.  It’s a lot to give up a whole raised bed (I only have 4 for veg) so I prefer to improve my chances.

Long post, no photo…hope you haven’t fallen asleep!

5 thoughts on “‘Three Sisters’ planting (sweetcorn, beans and squash)

    • cool, it’ll be good to see how someone else gets along. i feel guilty already for abandoning the beans but i am a neat freak and think just the corn and squash will work better for me here in the uk (and look a bit tidier).

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