Three Sisters Gardening

As gas prices soar and the economy continues its unknown and crooked path; home economists are becoming more and more creative in efforts to preserve and expand the family budget. And everything is under the microscope; from trip planning to grocery shopping, new and innovative coupon uses, (thus the rise of Groupon and others), entertaining, bulk storage … and yes, even gardening.

But truly, this isn’t new, it isn’t even unique to our generation.

As the late winter rains prepare the soil for spring planting, gardeners and those who want to be, are cropping up as advice from gardening guru’s proliferate. The difference between this generation and those of once or twice removed may just be that by and large, most of us are not living with backyards the size of our grandparents or even parents. So … space is a premium … and seems problematic if we want to give gardening a try and perhaps even grow some of our own food.

When one considers early American history and the customs and habits of Native Americans especially, lack of space, lack of crop growing areas … gardening, in our vernacular … does not usually come to mind. However, we can credit the Native Americans for introducing the “Three Sisters” gardening concept; a plan to increase yield and conserve space.

A Three Sisters garden is simply one in which corn, beans and squash are planted, shoulder to shoulder. The nitrogen-rich climbing beans use the height and structure of the corn stalks while ground-hugging squash reduce soil evaporation and smother weeds. The result? “Three interdependent and eminently edible crops produced from the same ground,” says Dean Fosdick of the Associated Press.

By employing these space saving methods, it is conceivable that the process could then be adapted to containers, hillsides, patios, even fire escapes.

For me, while the potential savings are attractive, the most alluring aspect of home gardening is the freshness of the produce, the beauty of the garden, the fulfillment of nurturing a seed to harvest, and the unquestionable nutritional benefits to our families of providing hormone and pesticide free whole foods from our garden to their plate in mere minutes.

Now is the time to begin planning your garden. Here are some fabulous links to help you get started.

I particularly love this article, designed for classroom use, from where it gives specific instructions on creating and growing a Three Sisters Garden. Click here the for article.

The second resource is an invaluable one for those who need to employ space saving methods. This article is from Iowa State University and recommends the following:

1. Select a site that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight, turn the soil and fertilize with organic fertilizer.
2. Interplant seeds of differing harvest times.
3. Succession plant cool and warm weather crops.
4. Grow vertical.

For more detailed information on these recommended methods as well as suggested vegetable varieties for small plot gardening, this article is a must read. Click here for the article.

While the rain drips from the eaves of my house today, my mind is full of sunshine and tender growing plants. I hope you consider growing a garden this summer and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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