Three sisters (well, almost)

CornDone it. I’ve finally planted out the sweetcorn. This year, as part of the great polyculture experiment, I wanted to try the  ‘three sisters’ – a traditional Native American method, where you plant corn, squash and beans all together. I think the  idea is that the corn provides support for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen – and the squash provides ground cover, shading out the weeds. However, I’ve read that, in our chillier climate, the beans tend to overpower the corn somewhat – so I just went for two ‘sisters’ this time, plonking the sweetcorn in with the squash and pumpkins.

I’m happy to try anything that means less weeding – and I have high hopes that the squash will do a good job of keeping the weeds at bay. Last year, I got some ‘red kuri’ squash seeds from Seed to Plate, and duly planted them out at the recommended 4-foot spacing, as it said on the packet.  That can’t be right, I thought – there’s heaps of room. Well, those plants grew like triffids; by the early Autumn, they had over-flowed their allotted bed, and were happily gamboling up the fence in a bid for freedom. We had about 14 delicious, nutty-tasting squash from, I think, 4 or 5 plants. The huge, jungly leaves filled up half the veg bed. So, it’s a bit of race against time this year – will my spindly looking little sweetcorn be able to keep ahead of the squash? We’ll see.

9 responses to “Three sisters (well, almost)

  1. Good luck with your two sisters experiment! Think I read somewhere that modern bean varieties can be just too vigorous for the corn to support.

    • Thank you! And good idea about the beans – I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe next year I’ll hunt down some less thuggish heritage/heirloom bean varieties and see if that works.

  2. Ah, now I want to know how you get on with this; I did the same last summer, plonked 8″ high corn plants into the massive gaps between my Italian courgettes plants … and they were swiftly swamped. In the end, I dug them up (in late August, I think) and replanted in their own space where they grew enough to offer up corn cobs in November and December! I’ve read that the 3 sisters relies on American corn which grows very tall, very quickly. We don’t have the right amount of heat – even in a (rare) good summer. Let us know how you get on!

    • Hi – thanks so much for your comments. It’s really helpful to hear how you got on. I did wonder if the sweetcorn would be up to the job…I’ve written another post including your comments; I think it’s an interesting example of a technique that may perhaps not work here with the UK climate (as you say). I thought it might be worth a try, tho I couldn’t really have picked a worse summer! Anyway – we’ll see what happens. There may be some photos of the Attack of the Killer Squash coming soon…

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