Sunday, January 6, 2013

About Our Namesake

A three sisters garden is a traditional Native American storage garden strategy. It’s corn, beans, and squash: a food alliance which when combined, makes a complete protein. A bean plant grows on either side of the corn, creating the basic pattern (spaced about four feet apart in a honeycomb pattern, usually done radially, you start with the center planting and then spiral out) and then the squash- you build mounds in all the spaces between corn and beans and plant the squash in the mound. They say you do this when the oak leaf is the size of the mouse’s ear. You weed once- at a certain time based on another seasonal indicator (any of you guys know what it is?) Our modern conception of this garden often features sweet corn, pole beans, summer squash, but traditionally this style of garden was for winter storage: drying corn for making cornmeal, shelling and drying beans, and winter squash. That’s why it was so low maintanence- in the summer, you can spend your time in the summer garden, and only spend a couple of days on the fall and winter bounty. What’s most remarkable about this garden is the relationships that all the plants have with each other. The beans fix nitrogen back into the soil, and they need the corn to trellis up. The squash provides ground cover, keeping the soil from eroding, keeping moisture in, suppressing the growth of weeds, a living mulch. And these three have a really neat way of partitioning the most key resource: sunlight.

Corn and beans both like full sun, and while the beans use the corn’s structure to sun themselves, their numerous tiny leaves don’t shade out the corns long narrow leaves. the narrowness of the corn leaves also don’t shade the beans. However, the combined mass of all of the corn and beans together provide a dynamic and dappled light for the winter squash, which changes throughout the day, never oversunning or overshadowing the broad flat leaves of the squash plant. Dave Jacke lectures about this really well, diving into how there are two kinds of shadows, umbra and penumbra, and draws diagrams of the sun and moon, it's really lovely. Highly recommend it.

image credit: Slow Food USA

image credit: Kurt Kulac
image credit: Sam Fentress

So there you have it. We named this blog after this garden model because it's so basic and no-fuss, yet highly interconnected and beautifully abundant. It's built to flourish on North American soils, just like us. The sum equals a whole lot more than the parts. This relates right in to what we're all working to foster in our communities.

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