September 10, 2008

Corn? Maybe?

We've got a couple of ears of corn on our corn plants. But I doubt they'll make it. They don't look so hot.

Next year I'll have to try the Three-Sisters method for planting corn along with beans and squash.

The Three Sisters were the principal crops of the Iroquois and other Native American groups in the northeastern United States. At the time Europeans arrived here about 1600, the Iroquois had been planting these three crops together for about 300 years.

Here's what I've been told:

  1. Plan and select a site. You'll want to plant your three sisters garden in late spring once the danger of frost has passed. Choose a site that has direct sunshine for most of the day and access to water. Plan your three sisters garden on paper. Use the layout suggested below or research and try others.

  2. Prepare the soil. First, break up and rake the soil. Next, build a mound about 12 inches high and between 18 inches and 3 feet in diameter. If you're in a dry area, flatten the top of the mound and make a shallow depression to keep water from running off. The number of mounds depends on the size of your growing area. Mounds should be 3 to 4 feet apart in all directions.

  3. Plant corn. Soak four corn seeds overnight and then plant them about 6 inches apart in the center of each mound. Many Native people honor the tradition of giving thanks to the "Four Directions" by orienting the corn seeds to the north, south, east, and west.

  4. Plant beans and squash. After a week or two, when the corn is at least 4 inches high, soak and then plant three or four pole bean seeds in a circle about 6 inches away from the corn. At about the same time, plant one or two squash or pumpkin seeds next to the mound, about a foot away from the beans.

  5. Consider other additions. Consider planting other traditional crops, such as sunflowers or jerusalem artichokes (a tuberous perennial sunflower), around at the edge of the three sisters garden. Put them on the north side so they won't shade your other plants. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other native crops are often planted in nearby plots. (Some of the many other indigenous plants used by native North, South, and Central Americans include melon, tobacco, chili pepper, cotton, blueberry, wild rice, and hazelnuts.)

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