Sunday, 25 March 2007

The Three Sisters

Our next installment in the gardening series focuses on what many native Americans called The Three Sisters. Those are, of course, corn, beans and squash. These three plants not only make a mean Thanksgiving meal, they also benefit each other by growing next to each other. The corn stalks act as poles for the beans to climb. The beans, being legumes, add nitrogen to the soil instead of removing it, which helps feed the corn and the squash. The squash's large leaves spread out to cover the bare soil around the corn plants, which keeps the soil from drying out and also prevents weeds from growing, helping both the corn and the beans.

Mandan Red Corn
Zea mays

Yes, I will probably be the only person in Exeter trying to grow corn in my very small (by US standards) English garden. But with corn like this, who could resist? It's deep red hue calls to me, begging to be germinated. This particular variety is the traditional corn grown by the Mandan Indians of North Dakota. The stalks only grow to 4 or 5 feet, which will help it stay upright in the windy weather. I'm not sure what I'll actually do with it once I've grown it. Some will be eaten fresh, but much will be dried. I might try making some red corn meal out of it. Red corn bread would be pretty cool.

Black Seeded Blue Lake Pole Beans
Phaseolous vulgaris

These are some of the best green beans I've had, and have done excellently both in Georgia and England. They climb from 6 to 8 feet, and are very prolific. They grow faster than we can eat them. Fortunately, if not eaten fresh, great dried black beans mature inside the pods.

Delicata Squash
Cucurbita pepo

Many of the readers of this blog may remember eating this particular squash at Thanksgiving '06, roasted, hollowed out, and stuffed with wild rice. Although asking "what is your favourite winter squash?" is a bit like asking "which one of your children do you love more?" I would say this one is up there. And Butternut. And Acorn. And Winter Dumpling. But especially Delicata.

Paint Dry Bean
Phaseolous vulgaris

"Wait, you said three sisters, not six!" Yes, I know. I won't actually be planting these next three kinds of beans with the corn or the squash, but I had to fit them in somewhere. Anyway, they are not climbing varieties, so they would get shaded out by the corn. I'll plant these Paint variety of beans in amongst the lettuces, to boost the fertility, and to keep a good pollination distance from the Blue Lakes above (I save the seeds for replanting.)

Pawnee Shell Bean
Phaseolous vulgaris

Another non-climber, and beautifully speckled. Probably the most productive of the three non-climbing beans. These would be very pretty in jewelry, if one were into that kind of thing. Me, I think I'll just eat them. They keep their patterning when cooked, and so look very decorative in soups. I'll grow these in the front yard to avoid cross polination with the others.

Jacob's Cattle Bean
Phaseolous vulgaris

Probably my favourite dry bean of all time, but not as productive as the others. It's very tempting to add play-doh horns and tails to them. I'll be growing these on the roof of my office building to avoid cross-pollination with the other bean varieties. Unfortunately, they lose their patterning when cooked. Perhaps their best use is in a diorama of a cattle drive.

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