Three Sisters and a Cousin

I have several goals when gardening.  I want it to be pretty, easy to work with, not to time intensive, cheap and attract fun bugs.  But the most important goal however is I want lots of food to eat.

I try to grow plants in such a way that I have the maximum number of healthy, high yield plants in the smallest space possible.   In order to do this I used biointensive methods (http://www.growbiointensive.org), raised beds, compost, natural fertilizers and companion planting.  Companion planting is when you plant two or more different types of plants together so that the properties of one can be beneficial to the other.   Like perhaps one plant is prone to a bad bug that is going to eat it all up, but there is another plant that the bad bug hates the smell of.  You put these two plants together in one area and they help each other.   You can use this method to repel bad bug, attract good bugs, make use of shade, manage nutrients, give structure and protect against disease.

This year I have been the most successful I have ever been by using the most time tested method I know, The Three Sisters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Sisters_(agriculture)).

The idea here is that corn need to be spaced a bit away from other corn in order to have room to grow and nutrients.  Corn also needs lots of water.   The leaves of the maize plant are not good at creating a canopy and shading the soil.  So if you plant corn alone you will have to water it all the time.  This is where the squash is helpful, squash stays much lower to the ground than corn, and has gigantic leaves. If you plant your corn and squash together correctly then very little light will ever touch the ground, so no evaporation. Added bonus, no light means few weeds.

Corn is also a heavy feeder, it loves to gobble up nitrogen.  Beans have this neat bacteria, rhizobia, which hangs out in the nodules of its roots.  Rhizobia produces nitrogen compounds.   This is called nitrogen fixing, you should look it up if you want more info.   So now there is extra nitrogen and the corn says “nom nom nom”.    Beans like to climb up other things, and the corn makes a perfect structure for them to climb on.


You also see a few pretty red/orange flowers and lily pad looking leaves in here.   That is nasturtium, which is a lovely flower that I heard helps squash.  I have not actually looked into this, so it may or may not be true.  I just really like this flower so I am going to pretend it helps even if it doesn’t.   It does help fill in any gaps to the canopy that the squash might miss. In the last month I have not watered this bed.  We have been getting rain about once a week, and in a bed with this much canopy that is all you need.

But here is the best part.  Lets say your corn packets says each seed needs to be planted 12 inches apart.  I take that to mean from other corn not other plants.  So the first thing I do is lay all the corn seeds out in a honey comb.  The first row all of them 12 inches apart, the second row is 6 inches away with each seed being in the center of where the last row seeds were, next row 6 inches away lining up with the first seeds.   After that I put in a few squash seeds.  Once the corn is up, I plant the beans about an inch away. The nasturtium is planted along the edge.So, to sum up.  You have squash on the ground, corn straight up and beans on the corn.

Using this method I can harvest a massive amount of food from a tiny space.   The bed in these pictures is 28 square feet.  Planted in this bed right now I have 30 stalks of corn, 5 large squash plants, 5 nasturtium and about 20 bean plants (should have been 30, but some did not get enough light and did not thrive).   This garden bed is about the size of a queen sized sleeping bed.   That is not very big at all.   Being conservative this season I should get about 90 ears of corn, 150 lb of squash, 75 lb of beans.

Do you companion plant?  Tell me your favorite combos.

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