A few years ago it became fashionable to plant the ‘Three Sisters’, a method of inter cropping developed by the Mayan’s to produce all three of their staple crops on one plot of land.
During pre-Columbian times Native Americans, mainly tribes from North America and Mexico, grew corn with beans and squash as companion plants which became known as the Three Sisters. Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix the nitrogen with their roots, which improves the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years of corn. Bean vines also help to physically stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. The spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure. Corn, beans, and squash also complement each other nutritionally.
Corn provides carbohydrates and the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthy, delicious oil from the seeds.
WHEN TO PLANT
Sow seeds any time after spring night temperatures are in the 50 degree range, up through June.
WHAT TO PLANT
Corn must be planted in several rows rather than one long row to ensure adequate pollination. Choose pole beans or runner beans and a squash or pumpkin variety with trailing vines, rather than a compact bush.
The three sisters plot is also known as Kionhekwa in the Iroquois language. The Iroquois’ creation myth recounts how the Three Sisters, an inseparable trio, grew on the grave of Mother Earth, who had died after giving birth to twins. These plants nourished the twins and enabled the Iroquois people to survive. The three sister spirits were named De-o-ha-ko – Our Sustainers – this is the origin of the name, “three sisters plot.” Corn is native to western Sierra Madre in Mexico. Known as maize in South America, corn has been a staple to many Latin American cultures throughout history. In Mayan culture, representations of their sun god were depicted to the god of maize, linked through the life cycle: birth, life, death, and rebirth. Huichol people in Mexico use blood from the sacred deer to feed maize. The deer is a spirit said to guide shamans. Hopi people in America still perform ritual dances to the corn spirits today.
Reprinted from The Heritage Garden