Most school children have heard the story of the three sisters. The corn is planted first and reaches for the sky. The beans and squash are planted when the corn is about six inches high. The beans use the corn as a bean pole and grow winding vines up and around the cornstalk. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil which benefits the corn and squash. The squash appreciates the shade of the corn and grows below as a living mulch to keep the roots of the other two cool and suppress weeds. Squash with prickly stems discourages small animals from getting into the corn.
In early August, my husband and I held a green corn festival. It was just us two, and we gave thanks and ate the first of the corn and beans from our Three Sister’s plot. I had planted Native American heirloom seeds, and wasn’t at all sure how the produce would taste. Cherokee White Eagle corn is described as being a great corn for grinding and making cornmeal, but “one can eat it off the cob when young”. Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are described in a similar way. They are touted as black beans that “may be eaten as green beans”.
I planted the Three Sister’s plot to create neighborhood interest in the community garden. It is fun to discuss the Three Sister companion planting with interested friends and neighbors, and it is fun to show folks what they have only read about in history books. However, I held a bias that “Indian Corn” was hard and perhaps tasteless. I was surprised that this green corn was so delicious eaten fresh on the cob. I somehow didn’t expect the beans to be so tasty that I would enjoy snacking on them straight from the vine. Perhaps these rare varieties (www.RareSeeds.com) are yet another example of how the food industry short-changes us in flavor and taste possibilities. From now on I will grow this or something similar as a garden and food staple.
However, as the season progresses the corn does
begin to get hard and not so tasty fresh. (Well, I had to try it!) The beans mature quickly into pods with thick strings and large beans inside. My garden is demonstrating its ability to provide sustenance through the winter. Sister squash must wait still longer to ripen, but will be ready to eat in November. She will keep well throughout much of the winter as well.
Growing these plants and watching the food bloom and mature is an enjoyable hobby. I have always found it fun to plant and just see what the food really looks like. My appreciation of of the garden is undergoing a subtle change, thanks in part to The Three Sisters. The gifts from the garden are not just a summer bounty to be briefly enjoyed, given away, or frozen or canned. The gratitude of the green corn festival can last far into the year with cornmeal, dried beans, and squash. All three will keep with much less fuss. The maturing purple Indian corn is beautiful.
I presently cook with wheat flour and buy bread from the store. I am again intrigued with the possibilities nature offers us outside of what the food industry markets. It will be a pleasure to honor these sisters this winter and prepare a few meals in a different fashion. I am grateful for this gift that shifts my perspective into more sustainable food gardening. Won’t purple cornmeal be a great adventure this year?
- “The Three Sisters” – Companion Planting (planetpermaculture.wordpress.com)
- The four sisters (thesnailofhappiness.wordpress.com)
- Green Corn Pudding (revolutionarypie.com)