Small Space Gardening
The Three Sisters
Part 1 of 2

The Three Sisters
Creative Commons License photo credit: Abri_Beluga

If we are looking at doing small space gardening, we should include in our small garden design the concept of companion gardening. Companion gardening is essentially planting plant varieties that complement one another by adding benefits that can’t be accomplished by just one single plant.

Let’s consider, for instance, including in our small space gardening plans the planting of what is commonly called “Three Sisters”, which is pictured above.

A Three Sisters style of gardening originated with North American Native American tribes. This is companion gardening, also known as an intercropping system. This usually consists of corn, beans, and squash growing simultaneously in the same plot of ground.

The Three Sisters draw strength from each other as well as providing addtional growing resources to each other.

Corn is often identified as the older sister and stands tall in the center of a rounded mound of soil. The corn offers structure upon which the beans can climb.

Squash is the second sister. She spreads her large broad growth of leaves low over the growing mound providing protection for the other 2 sisters. As a living mulch, she will hinder weed growth and will also protect the soil from drying out from too much sun.

Beans are considered to be the third sister. As such she will wind her way through the squash and climb up the corn stalks essentially binding the three crops or “sisters” together as she reaches for the sun. Beans will enrich the soil by adding nitrogen to the soil. The “sisters” are great companions and thrive well when planted together. In addition, the crops they produce are nutrionally balanced as well.

The Three Sisters garden lends itself quite well to small space gardening. The growing mounds should be approximately 18 inches high and 3 feet in diamater. If we choose to do more than one mound, the mounds should be spaced approximately 3 to 4 feet apart. As with most vegetables in our garden, these sites should also get 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day.

As a fun project for families with children, a mini Three Sisters can be grown as part of our container gardening project by scaling down the number of corn seeds planted to 3, and thinned to 1. The number of bean seed should be reduced to 2 and using 1 mini pumpkin seed for the squash. These will need to be planted in a large container such as a barrel. If grown indoors or in a less than full sun area, the sisters may not obtain full maturity, but our children should be able to see the interactivity of the plants and how they aid one another.

We can challenge our children to observe how the plants grow. Do they grow from the top of the plant or the bottom of the plant? For instance, mark a spot on the corn plant with a permanent marker and measure the distance from the ground to the mark. Periodically check the
distance of the mark to the ground as the plant grows.

Small space gardening can be useful as well as educational, and with the Three Sisters can make for an interesting family gardening project.

In Small Space Gardening – The Three Sisters – Part 2 of 2, we will look more closely at how to plant this fasicnating style of garden.

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