If you grow nothing else this spring, try “The Three Sisters.” Corn, pole beans and squash are perfect garden companions. They require little effort for a big organic harvest. My North Florida ancestors practiced this Native American technique for generations with great success.
What makes it so easy and fool-proof? They grow together in one small area. The corn provides a stalk for the beans. The beans add nitrogen to the soil, nourishing the corn. The squash covers the soil, keeping it moist and cool. Together they naturally ward off pests, making it easy to grow organically.
Choose a sunny spot about 3 to 4 feet in diameter. With a shovel, loosen the ground a couple feet deep and remove all grass and weeds. Then, create a round mound of fertile soil and composted manure (like Black Kow) about a foot high.
In mid-March, sow 5 or 6 corn kernels in a small circle in the middle of the mound. As the corn grows, it provides shade for the squash and a stalk for the climbing beans.
Two weeks later, when the corn is a couple inches tall, plant 7 or 8 pole beans in a circle about six inches from the corn. The beans will look for something to grow up as they reach for sun. If the bean vines don’t find the corn stalk, just manually wrap them around. The beans convert sunlight into nitrogen for the soil, which organically feeds the corn.
A week or two later, when the beans have germinated, plant 7 or 8 squash seeds around the edge of the mound, about a foot away from the beans. Use any type of squash – scallop, yellow, zucchini, pumpkin, etc. Remove any weeds growing in the mound. As the squash sprawls (and it will!) occasionally point the new growth toward the center of the mound so it shades the soil. The squash provides ground cover that keeps the soil moist and cool – and discourages weeds.
Once the seedlings are established, weed out a couple of the weaker ones, leaving three or four of the strongest. That’s all it takes to reap an effortless harvest of three popular North Florida veggies. Try one mound or many! Post a comment and photo on our FaceBook page so we can all celebrate your success.