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Posts Tagged: The Three Sisters

Companion Planting at it's Best

Along with gardening, I have an interest in American history, and combining the two can lead me to hours and hours of  exploring and research.  I grew up in Santa Rosa and visited Luther Burbank's garden many times.  I've been privileged to meet people who knew him and relish in their personal stories and memories. Mr. Burbank's imprint in the botany world has much effect on our current day planting and output.

A fascinating piece of American gardening/history is the legend and practical application of The Three Sisters.  Variations of this legend can be found in the ethos of many American Indian tribes, but is primarily attributed to the Iroquois.  It is a wonderful example of companion planting and has proven to be one of the most effective techniques ever developed in gardening and farming.  This method was was used by Native Americans then later taught to the early European settlers and is still used by many farmers and home growers today.

One version of the legend goes like this:

               A long time ago, three sisters lived together in a field.  These sisters were quite different from on another in their height and in the way they carried themselves.  The little sisters was so young and round that she could only crawl at first and she was dressed in green.  The second sister wore a bright sunshine yellow dress, and she would spend many an hour reading by herself, sitting in the sun with the soft wind blowing against her face.  The eldest sister, standing always very straight and tall above the other, looking for danger and warning her siblings.  She wore a pale green shawl and had dirty yellow hair.  There was one way the sisters were all alike, though. They loved each other dearly, and they always stayed together.  This made them very strong.

    One day a strange bird came to the field; a crow.  He talked to the horses and other animals, and this caught the attention of the sisters.  Late that summer, the youngest and smallest sister disappeared.  Her sisters were sad.  Again the crow came to the field to gather reeds at the water's edge.  The sisters who were left watched his trail as he was leaving, and that night the second sister, the one in the yellow dress, disappeared.  Now the eldest sister was the only one left.  She continued to stand tall.  When the crow saw how she missed her sisters, he brought them all back together and they became stronger together again.  The elder sister stands tall looking out for the crow to this very day.  (Shelia Wilson, member of the Sappony Tribe)

The practicalities go like this:

The first sister is corn.  She grows tall and provides a pole for the beans which shore up the corn stalks and leave behind nitrogen for the soil.  The third sister, squash, shades the bed from weeds and helps the soil retain moisture.  Some seed catalogs actually sell packets of three seeds together along with specific directions on how to plant.  The method used by Native Americans for hundreds and hundreds of years is still the recommended method.

On June 3, 2011, Cherokee White Eagle corn, Rattlesnake pole beans, and Seminole squash seeds, all donated by the National Museum of the American Indian, were planted at the White House Kitchen Garden by a group of American Indian and Alaska Native youth.  According to the First Lady, Michelle Obama, "It turned out to be one of our most successful plantings in the garden."

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Tags: beans (2), corn (7), Native American (1), squash (6), The Three Sisters (1)

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