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?
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."
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.
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
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.
??? Well, did the plans yeild the same compared to if they were
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
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.
The Fatal Harvest Reader by Andrew Kimbrell (Editor)
<(Amazon.com product link shortened)
(Available at a library near you, until they are closed, because of Wall
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 examplemay 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.
plus what good is high productivity if the
nutritional value is less than what it used
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" ?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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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