first step -- build mounds

first step -- build mounds

This summer I decided to try something new in the garden. Well, new for me. Various Native American tribes have companion planted corn, beans, and squash — the three sisters — for thousands of years.

In modern America, industrial corn farming has created a vicious cycle. A heavy feeder, corn quickly wears down the soil, which, in turn, requires the farmer to use chemical fertilizers to induce growth. Weak plants and sterile soil allow the bad bugs a bigger toe hold in the field, and so the farmer resorts to heavy doses of insecticide. The insecticide further degrades the soil, requiring more fertilizer. And so on.

The three sisters represents a different mindset. The corn, beans, and squash are companion planted so that each plant works to benefit the others. The corn grows tall and provides a trellis for the beans. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil, thus feeding the corn. The squash spreads out between the mounds of corn and beans, its vines serving as a living mulch that reduces weeds and helps the soil retain moisture. The squash vines also discourage critters like raccoons that have a fondness for corn but are afraid to walk in over grown areas where they can’t see the ground.

Sunday, I completed the first step in creating a three sisters garden. I mounded the soil and planted 8 kernels of Bloody Butcher corn in every other hill. If all goes well this summer, and each plant puts out at least one ear of corn, we will have 100–150 ears from which we’ll make our own meal. Bloody Butcher is a beautiful dark crimson corn, and we hope to be eating red cornbread by late October!

Check back for more updates on the progress of this summer’s experiment.