A mature oak can produce twenty-nine thousand acorns a year. Each has the chance to sustain our people, heal the world some, and spread where it can.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Three Sister Gardening

I just started digging out some gardens to plant the Three sisters, a traditional triad of plants grown in many places on the North American continent. It's a fantastic technique for growing a survival garden, that is something you can actually feed yourself off of with minimal work and land use. The plants help each other as per the principles of companion planting. The corn stalks grow tall, providing a trellis for the beans to grow up, while the beans add nitrogen to the soil that the corn requires, and the squash and/or pumpkin plants grow vines and large leaves that shelter the soil from the sun to keep water in, and repel pests.

To grow these great plants in this fashion, you need to first dig up a garden like usual. Alternatively, you could sheet mulch in the late summer or fall, and do minimal digging. Form circular mounds a few inches high and 12-18 inches across, and make sure to give at least a foot and a half space between them. Around this time of year, start planting three or four corn seeds (use heirloom!) near the center. Some people say to make a circle with them. A couple weeks later, plant the beans, about 6 per mound. If it's a larger sized mound, plant them between the center and the edge; plant at the lip of the mound if it's smaller. Either at that time or a week or two later, plant the squash as well, planting between 6 and 12 seeds. If you planted the beans halfway between the center and rim, the squash can go on the rim. Otherwise, plant the seeds around the base of the mound. Some people also plant the squash in their own mounds between the corn/bean mounds.

Done correctly, these plants will help each other, and therefore you will have to do less work to maintain them. Traditionally, something that attracts pollinators is planted nearby, sort of like the estranged fourth sister. I'm growing sunflowers for this, which is fairly traditional for a lot of the northeast.

Growing these plants is one of the most space and work efficient ways to grow your own food. Although the mounds require quite a bit of space between them, growing several plants per mound means more plants overall. The lower space in between often acts as swales or berms in which the water collects and soaks into the ground. I'm growing them in a hex pattern this year, in an attempt to fit as many mounds into my small garden as possible. We'll see how it works.

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At June 11, 2011 at 9:04 PM , Blogger pseudonym said...

Nice article. Permaculture is really the way to go. I'd like to see how your crop turns out. Good luck!

At June 11, 2011 at 10:40 PM , Blogger 29,000 Acorns said...

I'm hoping to take a picture of it soon, since it's starting to look pretty good. Sadly, I have lost the mini-SD card that would allow me to move pictures from my phone to my netbook.

I might modify this soon, since I think I understated the size of the mounds. I did mine one foot wide, but that's definitely a minimum size. Really, you want between 2 or 3 feet across.

I'll also post about an alternate formation I've experimented with that would be particularly well suited to guerrilla gardening. Look out for that.


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Twenty-Nine Thousand Acorns by Daniel Q is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Photoshop Tree Brushes created by Obsidian Dawn. Photoshop custom dandelion shape created by MyMimi. "Broken Acorns" photograph in banner taken by modcam. Layout by Kris.