Three sisters method.

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A friend told me about the Three Sisters growing method. Apearently It comes from the Native Americans who would grow Corn, Beans and Squash together. The corn stalks would provide a trellis for the beans to grow on, and the squash would grow on the ground and provide cover to control the weeds. Sounds intresting.
Anyone else heard of it? Anyone tried it?
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<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milpa>
Milpa is a crop-growing system used throughout Mesoamerica. It has been most extensively described in the Yucatαn peninsula area of Mexico. The word milpa is a Mexican Spanish term meaning "field", and is derived from the Nahuatl word phrase mil-pa "to the field" (Nahuatl mil-li "field" + -pa "towards"). Based on the ancient agricultural methods of Maya peoples and other Mesoamerican peoples, milpa agriculture produces maize, beans, and squash. The milpa cycle calls for 2 years of cultivation and eight years of letting the area lie fallow. Agronomists point out that the system is designed to create relatively large yields of food crops without the use of artificial pesticides or fertilizers, and they point out that while it is self-sustaining at current levels of consumption, there is a danger that at more intensive levels of cultivation the milpa system can become unsustainable.
The concept of milpa is a sociocultural construct rather than simply a system of agriculture. It involves complex interactions and relationships between farmers, as well as distinct personal relationships with both the crops and land. For example, it has been noted that "the making of milpa is the central, most sacred act, one which binds together the family, the community, the universe...[it] forms the core institution of Indian society in Mesoamerica and its religious and social importance often appear to exceed its nutritional and economic importance."
--
- Billy

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Actually, yes, that is the method we used whenever I was a kid. And my dad learned it from his dad who learned it from his dad. We *always* grew our pumpkins and squash with our corn. Always.
We never planted beans in there but we always grew bush beans, so maybe that was the reason.
Works very well. My dad said we did that because pumpkins and squash took up too much space but whenever you plant some hills in the corn rows that it is the best was to utilize the land.
Actually, come to think of it, we almost always planted the corn where the beans were last planted because dad believed corn sucked a lot of nitrogen out of the soil and beans put it back.
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I also grow Bush Beans, So I wasn't going to plant them in with the corn. But I do grow Sweet Pea Pods which need some thing to climb on. So I may put them in with the corn.

Hmmm. May not be possible in my limited space. The Bush Beans, being a low plant grow in a front furrow, but the corn grows in the back, by the fence. Reversing their places would probably not work.
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Sweet peas and corn grow in different seasons. Attempting to combine them is a waste of time and money.

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Where the hell do you live? Corn and peas both come up in July and August in New England. We plant them at the end of May and harvest in August.
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Pretty much the same thing here. Although the peas are put in from starts and the corn is direct seeded. I can see that the peas may out run the corn. I think the best approach (since this would be my second season, and I'm still experimenting) would be to plant the peas separatly this year and see how they grow compared to the corn.
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Peas are done by early June here and corn can't be planted until the second week of May. Western NC
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On Mon, 05 Dec 2011 05:42:31 +0100, Gordon wrote:

I tried it a couple of years ago after a visit to Plymouth Plantation where the Wampanoags were using it. It sounds like a good idea but it didn't do any better than conventional techniques. However I have a pest problem with my peas and beans which is unrelated to the planting technique that I use. Something chews my pea plants up, don't know if its something small like an insect or large like a rabbit or groundhog, but I've gotten terrible pea yields the last few years.
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planted separatly?
Wouldn't the yeild of (say) 100sf of soil be higher compared to planting separatly? For instance: 100sf of corn, 100sf of squash, 100sf of peas == 300sf of garden. VS 100sf of everything growing together?
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On Wed, 07 Dec 2011 00:12:08 +0100, Gordon wrote:

I got a lot more corn this year with conventional planting then I did last year with three sisters. However it doesn't prove anything since my corn yields year to year are highly variable. I don't have a lot of sun so I only do well in years that have longer growing seasons.
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No.
The Fatal Harvest Reader by Andrew Kimbrell (Editor) <(Amazon.com product link shortened) /ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid20837838&sr=1-1> (Available at a library near you, until they are closed, because of Wall Street's bailout.)
pg 19
Agribusiness and economists alike tend to use "yield" measurements when calculating the productivity of farms. Yield can be defined as the production per unit of a single crop. For example, a corn farm will be judged by how many metric tons of corn are produced per acre. More often than not, the highest yield of a single crop like corn can be best achieved by planting it alone on an industrial scale in the fields of corporate farms. These large "monocultures" have become endemic to modern agriculture for the simple reason that they are the easiest to manage with heavy machinery and intensive chemical use. It is the single-crop yields of these farms that are used as the basis for the "bigger is better" myth, and it is true that the highest yield of a single crop is often achieved through industrial monocultures.
Smaller farms rarely can compete with this "monoculture" single-crop yield. They tend to plant crop mixtures, a method known as "intercropping.' Additionally, where single-crop monocultures have empty "weed" spaces, small farms use these spaces for crop planting. They are also more likely to rotate or combine crops and livestock, with the resulting manure performing the important function of replenishing soil fertility. These small-scale integrated farms produce far more per unit area than large farms. Though the yield per unit area of one crop ‹ corn, for example‹may be lower, the total output per unit area for small farms, often composed of more than a dozen crops and numerous animal products, is virtually always higher than that of larger farms.
Clearly, if we are to compare accurately the productivity of small and large farms, we should use total agricultural output, balanced against total farm inputs and "externalities,''' rather than single-crop yield as our measurement principle. Total output is defined as the sum of everything a small farmer produces ‹ various grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products ‹ and is the real benchmark of 'efficiency in farming. Moreover, productivity measurements should also take into account total input costs, including large-machinery and chemical use, which often are left out of the equation in the yield efficiency claims. Perhaps most important, however, is the inclusion of the cost of externalities such as environmental and human health impacts for which industrial scale monocultured farms allow society to pay. Continuing to measure farm efficiency through single-crop "yield" in agricultural economics represents an unacceptable bias against diversification and reflects the bizarre conviction that producing one food crop on a large scale is more important than producing many crops (and higher productivity) on a small scale.
--
- Billy

E pluribus unum
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Billy wrote:

plus what good is high productivity if the nutritional value is less than what it used to be?
and this makes me wonder about the fact that many people eat too much and if some of that overeating is the body's own way of saying, "i need so much of this and i ain't getting it so i better eat more" ?
songbird
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I've done the 3 sisters method for experimenting fun. I did baby bear watermelons as I don't like squash and I included sunflowers. The watermelons, sunflowers and corn did well, the beans not so much.
Kate
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Gordon wrote:

I've heard of it as a nutritionally complete though boring system. You can grow those crops and live on them for years without getting ill. Add a small amount of hunted meat and it's livable. I've never tried planting them together.
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email.me:

<chuckle> Doug, I'm just talking about a way to grow some vegies. Not a diet. I have a grocery store down the road (several actually) that provides most of my food. But gardening is a nice diversion, and I can eat the produce from it. I doubt that I can live off my small garden plot.
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And the food from your garden can be poison free, local (no fossil fuel required to get it to you.), and fresh (all nutrients at peak levels). Let's see your grocery match that.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan <(Amazon.com product link shortened) 583/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid06815576&sr=1-1>
BIG ORGANIC * 179
The food industry burns nearly a fifth of all the petroleum consumed in the United States (about as much as automobiles do). Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate. And while it is true that organic farmers don't spread fertilizers made from natural gas or spray pesticides made from petroleum, industrial organic farmers often wind up burning more diesel fuel than their conventional counterparts: in trucking bulky loads of compost across the countryside and weeding their fields, a particularly energy-intensive process involving extra irrigation (to germinate the weeds before planting) and extra cultivation. All told, growing food organically uses about a third less fossil fuel than growing it conventionally, according to David Pimentel, though that savings disappears if the compost is not produced on site or nearby.
Yet growing the food is the least of it: only a fifth of the total energy used to feed us is consumed on the farm; the rest is spent processing the food and moving it around. At least in terms of the fuel burned to get it from the farm to my table, there's little reason to think my Cascadian Farm TV dinner or Earthbound Farm spring mix salad is any more sustainable than a conventional TV dinner or salad would have been.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
pg. 266 - 269
The fact that the nutritional quality of a given food (and of that food's food) can vary not just in degree but in kind throws a big wrench into an industrial food chain, the very premise of which is that beef is beef and salmon salmon. It also throws a new light on the whole question of cost, for if quality matters so much more than quantity, then the price of a food may bear little relation to the value of the nutrients in it. If units of omega-3s and beta carotene and vitamin E are what an egg shopper is really after, then Joel's $2.20 a dozen pastured eggs actually represent a much better deal than the $0.79 a dozen industrial eggs at the supermarket. As long as one egg looks pretty much like another, all the chickens like chicken, and beef beef, the substitution of quantity for quality will go on unnoticed by most consumers, but it is becoming increasingly apparent to anyone with an electron microscope or a mass spectrometer that, truly, this is not the same food.
--
Just sayin' :O)
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Of course. And that is why most of the vegies we ate last summer were very very localy sourced organic ;). Unfortunately, there is no way I could feed my family 100% from my small garden. :(
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On Wed, 07 Dec 2011 14:41:25 -0500, Derald wrote:

The explanation that the Wampanoags at Plymouth Plantation gave was that the squash keeps the weeds down and the beans add nitrogen to the soil. Squash has very large leaves so I can see how they would act as a kind of mulch. The nitrogen fixing properties are a long term effect, it's not necessary for the peas and beans to provide nitrogen for this years crop, it's value is that they add it to the soil for future crops. Crop rotation has the same effect, you plant a nitrogen using crop like grains one year, and nitrogen producing crops like legumes the next year. Three sisters just does it all at once.
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Derald wrote:

The cycle goes on for many years so the nitrogen from the legume applies to next year's planting. Whether it's enough when planting all three together is an interesting question. It's certainly a better sitution than planting corn and/or squash year after year in the same location.
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