We grow squash, sweetcorn and climbing beans together in a circular bed. These three vegetables are The Three Sisters – the basic food crops grown by the native American tribes. Traditionally they are grown together – the squash leaves shade and protect the soil; the bean roots fix nitrogen in the soil; the corn stalks provide support for the climbing beans; and after harvest the corn cobs, squash and dried beans provide food for the winter months.
The sweetcorn that we grow isn't strong enough to support vigorous climbing beans, so a teepee of sticks is needed – but this ancient crop trio makes a dramatic display in our garden each year. And there's a bonus – we grow The Three Sisters on a mound of part rotted garden compost, after the crops are harvested (or the next spring) we dig out the contents of the mound and spread it onto the vegetable beds. The two year old compost, enriched with nitrogen from the beans, is dark and crumbly – perfect for conditioning the soil.
Here's part 1 of Magic Cochin's method of growing The Three Sisters . . .
Create a pit (it doesn't have to be circular, but this does have
If you're starting from scratch this will be hard work but worth it! In
the second year this will mean digging out the beautiful well rotted
compost, and the sense of achievement will out-weigh the hard graft!
Fill the pit with the contents of your garden compost bin, including grass cuttings, hen muck, straw and wood shavings. Mix it well – hens are very good at this – do you know the Scottish reel 'Hens March on the Midden' ? I came across it when my hero was the fiddler Aly Bain (rather than Donny Osmond like my peers) – I never mastered the fiddle but could just about play it up to speed on the tin whistle. Here's another great fiddle player Dave Swarbrick playing Hens March on the Midden with Simon Nicol on Guitar – a wonderful musical description of the under-gardeners compost turning technique.
(It's best if you can listen to the music and watch the under-gardeners 'on the midden' at the same time!!!)
Pile up the contents of the pit to make a low mound and cover with a layer of soil. Place a glass cloche (or a plastic sheet) on the top to help to get the mound to heat up.
Meanwhile, plant seeds of squash, sweetcorn and climbing beans so they are ready to plant out, I usually aim to do this at the end of May.
Part 2 to follow soon . . .
Planting out The Three Sisters
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