This summer I’m going to experiment with a new technique that although it’s new to me, has been in use for hundreds, if not thousands of years by Native Americans.
The three most common plants grown by the Native Americans were corn (maize), squash and climbing beans.
Called the Three Sisters planting method, it is companion planting at its most simple.
Traditionally you form your soil into a clump that’s around 50cm in diameter and 30cm high. It should look like a big disc of earth.
Fertilize this clump really well because despite the fact that the beans will lock nitrogen into the soil, unless you’ve already had beans in that spot, the nitrogen isn’t there yet.
Once you’ve formed your disc plant the corn close together in the centre of the disc and leave these to grow until they’re about 15cm tall.
Then you plant your beans around the clump of corn and the squash/pumpkin, and although not a traditional accompaniment, cucumber, can also be planted at this time.
What happens is that the corn acts as a support for the beans so you don’t have to buy poles. The beans then fix nitrogen into the soil that the corn and squash use, and the leaves of the squash act as a living mulch that preserves moisture, and by virtue of the prickly leaves, deters pests.
In some areas they have a fourth sister, that being a yellow flowering plant that attracts bees that will help pollinate the squash and beans. I might plant some marigolds in amongst it all.
These four plants provided a nutritional powerhouse for the Native American people and those that followed.
Because corn lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the human body needs to make proteins and niacin, the beans contain both and therefore maize and beans together provide a balanced diet.