Meet the Sisters!
The ‘three sisters’ approach to gardening is an excellent ‘inter-cropper’ that has recently gained merit with many gardeners around the world. Since ancient times, the Souix Indians of North America have used this initiative method for growing three staple crops; sweet corn, squashes and runner beans. The great thing about a three sisters garden scheme is that these three crops are all grown together and interwoven in the same plot of earth.
Each crop compliments the other
- Sweetcorn provides a support for the runner beans and offers minimal shade over the squashes.
- Runner beans improve the soil by adding nitrogen, feeding the other two crops.
- Squashes provide low-level ground cover to help suppress weed growth.
Making your own three sisters garden
- Start your three sisters garden in early spring.
- You will need to clear a circular plot of about 8ft to 10ft in diameter.
- Dig over the plot and add plenty of well-rotted manure or mushroom (or normal) compost.
- Mound up the soil a little (about 6 inches to a foot high in the centre).
- Let the ground settle for a while and hoe out any weeds that appear.
Sowing your crop
- Sweetcorn: During late Spring, sow a ring 8-10 Sweetcorn seeds in a center of the circle, ensuring that they are spaced correctly (see seed packet for distancing). After germination, when your sweet corn is about 10 inches high, draw up a few inches of soil around each plant to increase root growth up the stem. The will give you plants a firmer footing. You may want to add a few sticks to give the sweetcorn more support in taking the weight of the runner beans.
- Runner Beans: After all risks of frosts have passed, sow two beans at the foot of each sweetcorn. Once the seedlings have appeared (after about 2 weeks), remove the weaker of the two to leave a single seedling for each sweetcorn. Allow the runner beans to climb up the sweetcorn.
- Squashes: You can use any kind of squash – butternut, pumpkin, courgette, marrow, etc. Start your Squash seedlings in a frost free environment during April and plant around the outer edges of the mound after the risk of frost has passed. I tend to train my Squash plants around in a circle to save space.
There is little to do now, aside from ensure that you water on a regular basis, including a good organic fertiliser and check your plants for pests. Runner beans are prone to black fly and squashes – mildew.