I was at Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, Mass on Cape Code) yesterday and
saw something interesting in the Wampanoug village. They plant multiple
crops in mounds rather than single crops in furrows as we do. They plant
12 seeds to a mound, 4 corn, 4 bean and 4 melons. Corn is a nitrogen
using crop, beans are a nitrogen fixing crop so they are symbiotic. Also
it occurs to me that the corn stalk would provide a good pole for the
beans. I'm thinking of using this technique this year, the theory makes a
lot of sense.
Has anyone tried this technique?
I've played with it. It's called a Three Sisters garden and if you
google it you'll find lots of info. I had a problem with the pole
beans, but I think that's just me beig challenged by pole beans. :)
The squash (or melons) shade the soil - a living mulch.
When I tried just corn and beans, even with planting the beans a bit later
the vines grew much faster than the cornstalks. Also, this technique is
going to produce masses of tangled foliage, so probably not useful for
picking immature green beans rather than at the dry stage.
I suspect my soil fertility is not good enough to get away with the three
Gary Woods AKA K2AHC- PGP key on request, or at home.earthlink.net/~garygarlic
Zone 5/6 in upstate New York, 1420' elevation. NY WO G
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Milpa is a crop-growing system used throughout Mesoamerica. It has been
most extensively described in the Yucatán 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, lima 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 word is also used for a small field, especially in Mexico or Central
America, that is cleared from the jungle, cropped for a few seasons, and
then abandoned for a fresh clearing.
Charles C. Mann described milpa agriculture as follows, in 1491: New
Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (New York: Knopf, 2005, pp.
"A milpa is a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which
farmers plant a dozen crops at once including maize, avocados, multiple
varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato,
jícama, amaranth, and mucana.... Milpa crops are nutritionally and
environmentally complementary. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and
tryptophan, which the body needs to make proteins and niacin;.... Beans
have both lysine and tryptophan.... Squashes, for their part, provide an
array of vitamins; avocados, fats. The milpa, in the estimation of H.
Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts
in Boston, "is one of the most successful human inventions ever created."
It should be noted that 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 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."
I just love cutting and pasting. Don't you? Any who ;O)
I had a rather dismal time with this experiment also. The problem
seemed to be that the corn shaded-out the beans. I didn't try to
complicate it with squash (which is what melons are as well). In a hot
climate, it would make sense (so I may have the wrong premise) but in a
cool climate (say, like Massachusetts), I would think that the squash
would keep the ground from warming up (corn loves warm soil). If I were
to try it again (like this summer), I think that I would plant the corn
in a southerly to south-west facing bed, shaped like a crescent moon.
Then a line of pole beans in front of the corn, squash planted next, in
the middle of the bed and bush beans planted to the left and right of
My other approach would be to leave more space between the corn, so that
the sunlight didn't get chocked-out.
Let us know how it works out.
"For the first time in the history of the world, every human being
I'm going to give it a try. My plan is to plant on 4ft centers. I'm also
going to plant sections of heirloom varieties and sections of modern
varieties, I have 1800 sq ft of garden space so I should have the room
for this. I picked up a couple packets of Indian Corn and some Mayflower
pole beans at Plimoth Plantation. I'll try to use the Indian corn as
popcorn, I'm not sure it's usable for anything else. I've also picked up
a large packet of Sugar and Butter from Agway and I plan to pick up a
packet of Silver Queen which are the two modern varieties that I normally
grow. I'll plant a few pea varieties in place of the beans on some of the
hills, peas and beans should be interchangeable as nitrogen fixing crops.
I'll also plant a couple of varieties of squash, I'm only doing that for
the ground cover effect it's supposed to provide, I hate squash so I'll
give it all away assuming that I get any. I'm not sure what to do for
melons, I need something that will mature in a short growing season. I've
never had any success with melons in the past, has anyone in my neck of
the woods (Lowell MA/Nashua NH area) been able to grow a melon?
I am trying the Three Sisters now. Can't vouch for it yet, but I have heard
it's about as close to a perfect growing system as you can get. Just be
sure to plant the beans and squash long after the corn. Wait until the corn
is 4-6 inches tall so it has a fair chance before the faster-growing bens
and squash take over.
Might I suggest African Marigolds. They are very tall marigolds with
carnation sized flowers and seem to be doing a very good job of pest
deterrent in our gardens. Foliage is much more pungent than "regular"
You mentioned not liking squash in an earlier post. I'm not in NE, but
my most successful Three Sisters garden I grew Baby Bear Pumpkins -
they mature pretty early. Very cute. I probably got the seed from
Johnny's Selected Seeds in ME. They can most likely advise you on what
will grow in your area.
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