Monday, July 18, 2011

three sisters and a few thoughts on weeding

three sisters

about 1/4 of our field garden is set aside for a three sisters planting. my husband is a bit obsessed with this idea. the three sisters garden is an old native american concept where corn, squash, and beans are grown together. the beans twine themselves up and around the corn and the squash provides a lovely but prickly ground covering underneath to help the soil retain moisture and also to deter raccoons from going after your ears of corn. beans add nitrogen to the soil and help nourish the other plantings. the three sisters are planted in mounds with corn in the center and beans planted in a circle around the corn. squash, zukes, or pumpkins are planted on the sides of the corn mounds.

this is our second year planting a three sisters garden. last year we had poor soil and because of this we had trouble growing anything other than a few zucchini. it's working beautifully this year due to our soil amendments. this photo is about two weeks old, and the corn is really towering over the beans now and the squash/zukes/pumpkins are filling in nicely. i can't wait to see what this area of our garden looks like in just a few weeks.

i wanted to briefly talk about weeding. as you may notice in some of my photographs, our weed problem is a bit out of control. this field garden is constantly trying to return itself to its former state, and we don't have the time to keep the weeds under control. recently, i had a bit of an epiphany. i'm trying a little experiment by weeding only the tops of the raised beds and letting the pathways and sides of the beds go wild. i decided to do this because i noticed that the plants in the field garden look really strong and don't have much insect damage. i have a suspicion that the weeds are creating a little ecosystem with beneficial insects that are taking care of the garden pests. plus, i love that we have daisies, st. john's wort (!) and other wild meadow plants growing in and around our garden beds. i'll be sure to let you know what i think of this approach to weeding at the end of the season.

are you familiar with the three sisters?


  1. I planted the 3 sisters last year and had great success! My husband has a bit of Cherokee in him and he had always wanted to try it. I decided against it this year though. Maybe when we have more space.
    I dont weed the outside of my garden beds very much. Only when something is getting a little too big. Then I use hedge clippers and cut it off. I try to weed the beds every day as I water. Since I am doing it everyday I dont have much to weed and the shoots are easy to pull.

  2. I really like the idea of the three sisters, how the different plants work together. And I will be interested to hear about your weeding plan, and hope it keeps garden pests away.

  3. i planted the 3 sisters for the first time this year...the corn is still really short, though.
    i like your idea for weeding...please post on how this works out.

  4. Three sisters is a pretty popular thing to do here in my area in Seattle. It's a fun and popular way to garden with children. Question: Did you plant them successively, or all at once? I've only done it successively, that was my understanding on how the Natives do it.

  5. amber: hi. i planted them all at once, but maybe that's not the way it should be.

  6. I found the same in my garden regarding the weeding. The years I stay on top of the weeds the bugs eat me out of house and home. I leave big patches of weeds now along one side and in a circle around a post in the middle and have no trouble (knock on wood) with insects, and this has been a bad year for potato bugs for all of our neighbors. Doesn't look picture perfect but we have our garden for food.
    I want to try 3 year.

  7. yes!! i love the three sisters approach. luke's work next year will be doing research on the three sisters... i cannot wait to see what he learns.

  8. looks wonderful! 3 sisters plantings are very popular in school gardens. great results and great connections... xo

  9. oh how i wish we could do a 3 sisters planting here, but neither corn, squash, nor beans will reach maturity outside of a greenhouse in our garden. wishing now that i'd tried it when we lived in more favorable climes!

    i'm liking the idea of letting some weeds go - maybe not all the way to seed, though. i plant white dutch clover between all of our beds each spring which i think prevents a lot of weeds from ever germinating (but certainly not all), keeping it partly mowed down with the mower set on its highest setting. so far, it works quite well, the blossoms invite beneficials, and the it feeds the soil (even if i'm not planting between the rows).

    both daisies and st. john's wort are technically 'noxious weeds' in montana but i secretly (and not so secretly, depending on the company i'm in) love them both! i've got a st. john's wort dyebath in the works, as i type.

    i'd love to see how this progresses for you two over the season!

  10. we leave many weeds, and though i love a tidy garden i simply can't get to them all! like siri, i do come in and remove any that are flowering so as not to invite more :) and i don't till or turn the soil too much as this brings more seeds to the light and thus germination. many weeds like siri mentioned (clover or vetch) are nitrogen fixers and so help your soil biology tremendously. and yes, there are so many soil ecosystems above and below ground. think of a forest, no weeding, yet every plant serving a purpose. i weed around my veg, and keep the invasives out (morning glory, couch grass etc), but strive for balance and allow some to act as a moisture preserving "mulch" too. Some plants (many i suspect) can tolerate the competition, though carrots, for example might not.