Three sisters...

24 November, 2012

For the first time I'm trialling a three sisters type arrangement for my corn crop.

Given I've no experience with sisters (being a girl with two brothers) I'm a little apprehensive. But as these three are unlikely to steal my clothes and generally ruin my life (a view perhaps falsely influenced by my memories of friends complaining about their sisters...) I'm prepared to give it a go.

Whimsy aside, the three sisters growing arrangement for corn, beans and cucumbers is a method I've read about a few times and which has always intrigued me. It is a way of intergrowing crops, thus getting more yeild for the space used. Have you ever used this system? If so I'd love to hear how it went.

In theory, the corn provides something for the beans to grow up, the beans provide additional nutrients for the notoriously hungry corn by fixing nitrogen as legumes do, while the cucumbers sprawl under the corn/beans and are essentially a living mulch. Thus, each plant helps the others grow and all live harmoniously together. I wish humans were as smart.

My corn crop was looking in need of a renovation if this system was going to work. I had saved some seed from last year when the cobs went beyond good picking into starchy territory, so they were really only good for seed. I had a couple of small handfuls of seed, and a few weeks back just chucked it randomly into an area that had nothing planted. I wasn't sure if it would germinate, so I figured if it didn't I could easily plant something else. I put my standard scatterings of random twigs and prunings to protect from animals digging up the seeds, and intermittently watered.

I was rewarded with a random lot of seedlings, which were very much in need of spreading out.


So I removed the twigs and spaced out the corn seedlings. I then planted a climbing bean seedling (Climbing Princess, many thanks to Tracy for the seeds) next to the corn seedling.


Hopefully this will be the start of a wonderful relationship.

When all the corn seedlings were cohabitating with bean seedlings, I then deviated slightly from the plan.

Given I already have my cucumber bed planned out and planted, and I have grown sprawling cucumbers before and always struggled to find the fruit, I have decided to go with pumpkins as my living mulch instead.

So then I planted seeds of three varieties of pumpkin (Australian Butter, Baby Blue and Buttercup) under plastic bottle protection.


 Lets see how these three play together...

12 comments:

  1. Oh good on you! This is something I have always meant to do and have never done. I have a 'two sisters' relationship I deploy every year. It is a cucumber and sunflower relationship. The cucumber gets some share from the towering sunflowers. Keen to see how you get on!

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    1. Very nice. It's nice to see how plants match up to get the best of each. I'm sure there's a heap of combinations I've never fully used to advantage.

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  2. I first read about the "three sisters" about a week ago. It came as we just put down some more corn seeds--one of the easiest plants to grow I reckon. I've planted some watermelon seeds under some and some pumpkin seedlings under others. I will throw in some beans as the corn starts to grow up. Let's see how it goes. Glad to hear others are trying it. :)

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    1. I like the idea of using watermelon. Why didn't I think of that!

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  3. Oh this is interesting. I planted our beans, corn and cucumbers together but didn't think to let the beans ramble up the corn.

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    1. Maybe the plants will work it out on their own. The clever things!

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  4. I keep meaning to do this but haven't tried it yet so I will be interested to see how you get on. I've always thought it was done with pumpkin so I think you are onto a good thing.

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    1. I spoke to someone else just today who said the same thing. I can only recall reading about cucumbers, but hey, any cucubit should do it!

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  5. Hi Bek, I have tried this method before, and found that I had to let the corn grow for a month to about 30 cm high before planting the beans. When I planted the beans at the same time, they quickly overtook the corn and sprawled all over the ground making it harder for them to get pollinated.

    I learnt my lesson this year, and it is working out fine.

    Gav x

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    1. Damn. Maybe I've peaked early. Thanks for the heads up, I will keep an eye on them and try to stop them rambling on the ground. I will have to try your system next year.

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  6. This method was on Gardening Australia last weekend. Did you catch it?

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    1. No, I didn't. I might just have to check it out online...

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