Wednesday 2 May 2012

Three Sisters in the making

First some good news: Congratulations to our daughter Emma and her husband Dave on the birth of their daughter Holly Louise, born on 1st May at 11:41 p.m. Welcome to the world, Holly! Mother and baby both well. Going round to see them tonight...


This year I am going to have a Three Sisters bed for the first time. This is the traditional combination of beans, corn and squash, which was supposedly how the Native Americans used to grow their veg. The beans give nitrogen to the squash and corn; the corn gives support to the beans and squash, and the squash shades the roots of both beans and corn to conserve moisture and suppress weeds, so everyone helps everyone else. Sounds to me like a good system  - certainly worth a try. However, based on advice from fellow bloggers like Sue from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments, I will be providing the beans with some additional (artificial) support in the form of canes.

I have 16 Sweet corn seedlings that are mostly big enough to plant out:

One or two of the seeds I sowed in those little 3" pots rotted and never germinated, so I re-sowed them. This is why some of the plants are a lot bigger than some others. The bigger ones look pretty good though:

I'm hesitating about planting them out into the open, because of the adverse weather we have been having. First it was very cold, now it is very wet and windy.

The squash plants I am using are ones called "Butterbush", a Butternut variety bred to be very compact, so they should be ideal for growing in a small raised bed. My plan is to have a layout that has a central teepee of poles supporting 8 or 10 "Cherokee Trail of Tears" bean plants, flanked on either side by a Butterbush squash plant and either 6 or 8 Sweet Corn plants, depending on how big they look when I'm ready to plant them out. The Sweet Corn is a variety called "Mirai Yellow".

The squash plants are still small too, and they are not robust enough to go outside without protection just yet, so I will be planting them underneath a couple of those big plastic cloches that I have - probably in another week or so. Is it too much to hope that by that time we might see some sunshine again??

This tray has two each of the "Butterbush" squash, cocktail cucumbers "Iznik" and another squash called "Autumn Crown". None of them look particularly good. They are too leggy for my liking, having been reared mostly indoors where the light level is fairly low, and the first leaves seem to have been severely nibbled by something, leaving them yellow and transparent. Fortunately the next set of leaves is looking undamaged as yet. [The long thin leaves, by the way, are the cotyledons or "seed-leaves", which naturally shrivel and drop off.]

This one is a cucumber, but they're all affected in the same way.

As for beans, no sign yet of the Cherokee ones germinating. I sowed them in pots in my garage on 6th April. so for the time being all I can show you is some of my Runner Beans ("Scarlet Empire") which are slightly ahead:


  1. Good luck with your three sisters bed. I finally broke out the beans from the other two. I've decided the beans are banned from being near the corn. I tried growing Cherokee Trail of Tears up the corn stalks one year. They are such vigorous beans. They totally swamped the corn. Last year I tried growing the beans on a trellis on once side of the bed and the other two on the other side. The beans shaded out the corn and squash too much even though they were on the north west side of the bed. This year the beans get their own bed since they can't play nice.

  2. Are you sure something has nibbled the leaves? Could it be that the leaves were damp and some sunshine through the window scorched the leaves. I know we haven't had too much in the way of sunshine but through a window does magnify it!

    I guess they've been kept well watered as dryness can cause leaves to yellow too. Lack of nutrients can be another problem that could cause yellowing. If the seedlings have been in the compost a while it could have used up the nutrients. In fact with some compocsts nowadays lack of nutrients can be a major problem.

  3. Many congratulations Mark on the birth of Holly-and such an apt name for the grandchild of a gardener!!

    Really looking forward to seeing how the three sisters experiment turns out. My Cherokee beans were very slow to germinate and the first sowing only produced very stunted small plants which appear to have stopped growing. The second and third sowings did far better and grew quickly and are big enough to move to their final big pots hopefully at the weekend-but will then have to stay in the greenhouse for a bit longer with our current weather...

  4. Congratulations on the new grandbaby!
    I was not able to even get down to my garden today but maybe I will get out there tomorrow. I should have beans sprouting as well. I am very interested to hear how you three sisters do.

  5. Congradulations to your daughter and husband, and to you and Jane, grandparents, on the new baby girl! What a wonderful May Day gift!

  6. Congratulations on baby Holly!
    I like your idea of the three sisters growing and can't wait to see how it grows. Was just looking over your blog posts over the week and you are way ahead of the game, your veg beds look great already! You have really been busy! The salads in the box look fab, a really great way to grow salads.

  7. Congrats on your new grandbaby! And she's born on May Day no less :) How do you find that the beans handle the transfer. I've read in the past not to start them indoors but you seem to have no problem. I'd like to try it next year as it would help get a jump on our growing season. I've passed you a little blog love on my latest post. Cheers, Jenni

  8. Congratulations to you all on the safe arrival of your grandaughter - how wonderful.

    Good luck with the three sisters - I have never had a really good success with that method up my allotment - but I am sure you will be more successful growing them at home as you can give them more attention.

  9. Congratulations to you, your daughter and family!

    Those sweetcorn plants look really healthy, and are way ahead of mine.

    Every year I always find myself trying to second guess the month of May, but in all honest anything could happen. We could have baking heat or late frosts. Who knows? But I'm treading with caution that is for certain..!

  10. Congratulations all round Mark, to you and all your family. The name Holly is so appropriate.
    An interesting post this morning and I look forward to keeping up with developments of the three sisters.
    I grew amazing sweetcorn whilst in the Middle East...I'm hoping you see enough sun for your project. Hope springs eternal eh?
    Have fun :D

  11. Congrats to your family!!!! I am having the same issue with all of my plants--tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers hardening outside and my veggies in the garden. I have never seen this before. Have seen some bugs (perhaps various stages of aphids???) on the back side. I don't know what to do about this!!!

  12. pretty sure they are aphids. Will work on it and hope for the best! Have been squishing them, but may try and oil, soap, water method too.

  13. Congratulations to you and your family on the new arrival!
    Looking forward to seeing how your sweet corn does. I must check if I can grow a variety of corn here in Chennai.

  14. Great concept! Its very well thought out. I am making a note of it for next time.

    I only just planted my french beans outside in big containers with a determinate variety of tomato.

  15. Congrats on your new granddaughter what a lovely start to May. Oh dear your plants don't look very happy at all - let's hope that whatever it is doesn't affect the rest of the plant. Looking forward to seeing how your plans work out - seeing the results of the rest of your plantings I am sure it will work out for you.

  16. Congratulations! I'm watching this experiment with interest!

  17. Congratulations to everyone on Holly's birth. I was thinking of putting in a 3 sisters bed but I think I might wait and see how yours goes first. I like the theory but plants have a habit of not doing as they're told in my experience.

  18. Many congratulations to all concerned on the birth of Holly, what a perfect name. I'm sure Lara must be thrilled to bits to be a big sister at last. I'm looking forward to seeing how your three sisters experiment works out, it's a great use of space being able to grow three different crops in one bed.

  19. I did a three sisters bed last year and it seemed to work well. My beans definitely didn't swamp my corn, they didn't all grow up the corn so well, but everything was planted quite closely so they all supported each other. I would plant a different type of squash next year, one that doesn't spread all over the garden, but remains more compact like you're planning. I'll be watching with interest Mark.

  20. Congratulations! What a lovely name as well.


Thank you for taking time to leave me a comment! Please note that Comment Moderation is enabled for older posts.