Around this time of year the exhaustion starts to set in. I’ve saved the majority of my seeds. I can’t bear to look at too many more tomatoes or eat any more kale, and the basil stares longingly, accusing me of neglect. In fact, the riot of vegetables ploughing into one another accuses me.

I’ve canned all I’m gonna can. The freezer is full. My trips to the garden are fewer and fewer.

After a week’s absence, I journeyed out to the garden only to discover that the raccoons had finally shown up. The squash that were supposed to keep them out of the corn had been pulled because they were infested with the vine borer. The raccoons had been pulling the corn stalks down, peeling back the silks and husks and completely eating the corn from the cob.

My beautiful corn. I thought that it needed another month, but as I began to pull the husks back from the ears, I discovered they were mostly ready. So I pulled them. I harvested maybe 15-20 lbs of corn that is now drying. Soon, I will remove the kernels, grind them up, and we will have corn flour.

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At this time, we’ve only harvested five small butternut squash. We’ve one more on the vine. The rest of the squash were a failure.

The beans were beyond failure. We might have harvested one cup of bingo beans and, no lie, a total of three fava beans. Three. Favas are obviously not meant to grow in the Kentucky summer. Lesson learned.

On the whole, I’d say the three sisters was a failure. When you don’t really get two of the three crops, can you call it anything else? What would I do next year? Grow greasy beans (or some other bean suited for Kentucky’s climate), grow only butternut squash, grow a corn that is shorter by a few feet.
I may also let this bed rest, dump my compost into it for a year, and try again in earnest the next.
Is there anything else a gardener can do?

The beauty of the three sisters garden is in the way the corn, squash, and bean plants work to benefit each other — the corn provides a trellis for the beans and shade for the squash, the beans provide nitrogen for the corn, and the squash act as a living mulch and pest deterrent for the whole garden patch.

The danger of the three sisters garden is that if one element of the garden fails (especially the corn), the entire venture is at risk.

As noted in my last entry, I have already learned some hard lessons. Though the Bingo beans are producing a moderate number of pods, the favas have yet to produce one bean while continuing to refuse the corn as a trellis.

Bloody Butcher is a magnificent corn. However, it is also one of the taller varieties available, reaching a height of 12 feet. The problem I’ve run into is having corn that is perhaps too tall and thus susceptible to wind damage. I’ve already lost 5-10 plant to strong wind blowing the stalks over. As corn requires a good stand to produce quality ears, what I end up with might be far less than desirable. I began the season thinking I might have enough corn to save some seed and grind some for meal. But corn needs a minimum of 100 plants to provide the variety of genes needed to produce viable seed. Once again, I did not give myself any room for failure and began the season with the bare minimum of plants. With fewer that 100 plants pollinating each other, saving seed would be a futile pursuit this year .

Finally, the squash that I had such great hopes for this spring has been, almost to a plant, invaded by the squash vine borer. Although I spent some time at the peak of their emergence slicing open the vines and pulling the worms from inside, I was dismayed this weekend to discover that they had decimated the remaining plants, the worst of them containing 7-8 grubs. The exception, apparently, is the butternut. For whatever reason, the SVB does not bother with this squash. We will be lucky to have 5-6 butternut squash by the season’s end. At least I hope we do — in the middle of pulling the infested vines, I was surprised to find that one SVB grub had burrowed into a volunteer tomato plant. I can only suppose that he burrowed right back out.

But trial and error, isn’t that the name of the game? Next year I am planning to increase the size of the bed and sow legumes and other green manures to improve the organic makeup of the soil. After a season of rest and rejuvination, perhaps the chances for a more succesful three sisters garden will be greatly improved.

Stay tuned for news of further calamities.