Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Three Sisters Garden – Monsoon Planting

Sustainers of Life

In a Three Sisters planting, the three partners benefit one another. Corn provides support for beans. Beans, like other legumes, have bacteria living on their roots that help them absorb nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that plants can use. (Corn, which requires a lot of nitrogen to grow, benefits most.) The large, prickly squash leaves shade the soil, preventing weed growth, and deter animal pests. The Three Sisters also complement each other nutritionally.

To the Iroquois people, corn, beans, and squash are the Three Sisters, the physical and spiritual sustainers of life. The three vegetables composed the main food supply of the Iroquois. These life-supporting plants were given to the people when all three miraculously sprouted from the body of Sky Woman's daughter, granting the gift of agriculture to the Iroquois.

The Iroquois agricultural system was based on the hill-planting method. The women, who were responsible for farming, placed several kernels of corn in a hole. As the small seedlings began to grow, the farmers returned periodically to mound the soil around the young plants, ultimately creating a hill one foot high and two feet wide. The hills were arranged in rows about one step apart.

Iroquois women mixed their crops, using a system called "interplanting." Two or three weeks after the corn was planted, the women returned to plant bean seeds in the same hills. The beans contributed nitrogen to the soil, and the cornstalks served as bean poles. Between the rows, the farmers cultivated a low-growing crop such as squash or pumpkins, the leaves of which shaded the ground, preserving moisture and inhibiting weed growth.

The Arizona version!

Three Sisters Gardens Should be Ready by Monsoon Rains

By early July, your Three Sisters Garden pits should be dug and filled with good compost, seeds should be in the ground waiting for the rains, and you should have straw ready to cover the soil once the seeds have sprouted. Consider planting other traditional crops, such as sunflowers or jerusalem artichokes (a tuberous perennial sunflower), around at the edge of the three sisters garden. Put them on the west side so they will shade your other plants during the heat of the late afternoon.

1. Plan and select a site. You'll want to plant your Three Sisters garden in a site that has direct sunshine for most of the day and access to water. Some afternoon shade is OK as the sun is so strong late in the day. Also having a water source nearby will make it easier to supplement the monsoon rains.

2. Prepare the soil. First, break up and rake the soil. Next, build a mound about 12 inches high and between 18 inches and 3 feet in diameter. Flatten the top of the mound and make a shallow depression to keep water from running off. The number of mounds you create depends on the size of your growing area. Mounds should be 3 to 4 feet apart in all directions.

3. Plant seeds. Soak four to seven corn seeds overnight and then plant them about 6 inches apart in the center of each mound. (You'll eventually thin to three or four seedlings.) Many Native people honor the tradition of giving thanks to the "Four Directions" by orienting the corn seeds to the north, south, east, and west. Also soak and then plant six pole bean seeds in a circle about 6 inches away from the corn. (You'll eventually thin to three or four bean seedlings.) At about the same time, plant four squash or pumpkin seeds next to the mound, about a foot away from the beans, eventually thinning to one. If you are planting a large area, you can also sow the squash in separate mounds (1 foot in diameter) between every few corn and bean mounds.

4. Maintaining your traditional garden. As corn plants grow, thin them out, weed gently around them and mound soil around the base of each stem for support. When the corn is knee-high and again when silks appear on the husks, "side-dress" by putting a high nitrogen fertilizer (such as aged manure or fish emulsion) on the soil surface near each plant. If beans aren't winding their way around the corn, help by moving tendrils to the stalks. (Keen observers may notice a pattern in the direction in which the bean vines wind.)

This concept of interplanting these seeds is known as companion planting. This is the concept behind the Three Sisters: put corns and beans and squash together and they help each other. Getting the right nutrients in the soil is essential to the success of any garden. These days we mostly rely on fertilizers to provide the right ‘food’ for plants.

But through companion planting, you can provide proper nutrients from one plant to another through the soil they share. In the three sisters, the beans, part of the legume family, take in unusable nitrogen from the air and produce excess, usable nitrogen to the soil for the corn and squash. But while beans are useful in many companion planting combinations, they are not good to plant around onions or garlic, which do not like the extra nitrogen. By using compost you are also adding nutrients and microorganisms to the soil which will act as a natural fertilizer as well.

So as you plant your own Monsoon Garden, think about our ancesters who planted in this method naturally. Consider that they were already 'green' and 'eco-friendly'. Today, we can learn a lot by following the simpler ways of our ancestors and the earth will benefit from it.

Happy Digging,
Doreen, The Garden Goddess

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Monsoons on the Way

I am sure my plants are enjoying the humidity along with the clouds more than I am. Well, the clouds are OK, but it is no longer a 'dry heat' in Phoenix. I know, I shouldn't be complaining with the high heat and humidity in Chicago (sorry Sis!) but I moved here for the dry heat. We went from Spring to Monsoon summer in less than a week.

Ok enough of the weather report. Let's talk garden. My vegetable plants are doing just OK this year. I bought and planted several heirloom s for the firdst time and I am just not that impressed with them. My chocolate pepper plant died after one puny pepper. One of the tomato plants is still pretty small - got a few cherry tomatoes off of it. But they were 'earth brown' and it was hard to tell when they were ripe. And when they said mini peppers boy they weren't kidding. They were smaller than a cherry tomato! Kind of hard to do much with them but nibble them off the stem!

But those Armenian cucumbers - another story. The latest is 18 inches long. They are hiding under all the vines and I didn't catch them until they are gigantic! Good thing they still keep their flavor. Now the vines are taking over the rest of the garden. YUMMM I can eat them fresh from the garden every day!!

Since this is the first summer in my new garden, I didn't plant a lot of veggies. I just didn't know how it would do - but I did plant lots of flowers and they are doing great. The sunflowers are popping up everywhere and attracting the finches and bees. In fact I have 4 plants standing sentry at the entrance to the garden from the street side.

The zinnia's make great cutting flowers for little bud vases. I keep one on my desk every day. See the garden gnome? He's almost invisible. I also planted a few seedballs made with corn, bush beans and I thought squash. The corn is about 10 inches tall, the beans not far behind, but no sign of the squash. That's called a Three Sisters Garden. The Native American's planted them together at the start of the monsoons and let the summer rains grow the crops. I'll post more about that next week.

It's fun to experiment in the garden and see what works and what doesn't. Now keeping track of all the results - a whole other blog post for sure!

Until then,

Happy Digging, The Garden Goddess


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Eating from the Garden

Eating from the Garden

Finally I am eating the fruits of my labor - literally - I have been eating the apples from my trees I planted only five months ago! This is actually the FIRST apple I ate on May 1st. The branch was bending dut to the wieght of three little apples so I picked one and at it. Notice it is smaller then the tennis ball! The apples are much bigger now and much better tasting.

There is no button that pops out of your apples or other fruits or veggies when they are ready to eat like on the butterball turkey. You just have to be adventuresome and pick one and taste it! If it's really bad toss it in the compost bin!

Here's my latest pride and joy - a 15 inch long Armenian cucumber! and boy is it tasty! The vines are covered with blossoms and little cukes the size of my pinky finger. I was warned not to plant too many of these! It is interesting how the different garden beds are actually performing. The cukes I planted in the back bed are not doing much at all. But the ones in front have really taken off!

Tomatoes are doing just OK - mine are mostly either cherry or grape tomatoes and there are lots of green ones. I picked a few of what I thought were red ones and they were not quite ready yet. I am trying to beat the birds to the ripe tomoatoes as I keep finding some on the ground all broken open.

I am kind of worried about the eggplants - lots of blooms - no eggplants yet. I have lots of bees and butterflies for pollinating so I am not sure what's up!

Pepper plants all look great and are filled with small peppers. I have red, green, yellow and a chocolate pepper (kind of brownish - an heirloom) - all sweet peppers. I loved roasted peppers and stuffed peppers so I will be sure to enjoy these.

My watermelon seeds sprouted right away and are grown like crazy - I should have watermelon by August!

Now all I have to do is keep all the plants happy over the summer. We have been blessed with temps under 100 and partyly cloudy skies lately so that is good for the plants I stroll through the garden daily checking for new veggies and seeing if they need water. The joy I get from discovering a new veggie ready to pick and eat totally outweighs the sweet and time it took to get the bed planted.

How is your garden doing? I would love to hear from you!

Happy Digging
The Garden Goddess, Doreen


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