How to

Grow the ‘Three Sisters’

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Oct Wk4

In the 1500s, when they were colonising the Americas, Europeans found that many of the Indian tribes grew three native vegetables – corn, climbing beans and squash – together, and harvested them to provide the basis of a healthy diet. The Indians called these plants the ‘Three Sisters’ and, while there are many Indian legends about the origins of this name, science has shown that these three plants, as well as being nutritious, do help each other to grow.

How? Well, for a start, upright corn stalks provide support for climbing beans. And beans, being legumes, use the bacteria on their roots to convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into plant food, thereby fertilising the hungry corn and the squash. Squash does its part by sprawling over the ground and shading the soil, forming a natural mulch that keeps the roots cool and helps hold moisture in the soil.

If you grow your own ‘Three Sisters’ garden you’ll be maintaining a link to those native American gardeners who first began tilling the soil thousands of years ago. Start by choosing a sunny part of the garden. Enrich the soil with good organic matter (compost or aged manure) and some Dynamic Lifter pellets or Yates Blood & Bone. Build up the soil into mounds that are about half a metre across at the top. Water well and next day sow six or seven corn seeds in the top. Yates Early Chief is the traditional yellow and Sun ’n’ Snow has fascinating gold and white kernels. Either will do. Remove the weak seedlings to leave at least four corn plants.

When the corn seedlings are about 15cm high, sow four or five climbing beans around the base. Yates Stringless Blue Lake produces an abundance of green pods, and the amazing Purple King develops purple pods that change to green when they’re cooked.

Next plant the squash (or pumpkin) seeds. One Butternut pumpkin plant will grow right over the mound but there may be room to plant two baby squash – one each side. Yates has just added the tender and versatile Squash Yellow Buttons to its 2009 seed range.

With such close planting and so much root competition, your ‘Three Sisters’ will need plenty of care. Feed regularly with Thrive Soluble Plant Food and change to Thrive Flower & Fruit when the plants get to cropping stage. Don’t let the plants dry out but, when watering, try to keep the squash leaves dry because squash is very prone to the fungal disease powdery mildew and wet leaves (especially overnight) encourage the disease to spread.

Yates Nature’s Way Natrasoap, which is now available in a ready-to-use pack, controls many of the sap-sucking pests and its low toxicity means it has no withholding period – wash and eat straight away. Nature’s Way Dipel takes care of caterpillars.


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