The Three Sister Garden Plans: How To Get The Most Out Of Every Square Foot

Tara Dodrill
By Tara Dodrill March 22, 2019 11:14

The Three Sister Garden Plans: How To Get The Most Out Of Every Square Foot

The Three Sisters Garden plan has seen a resurgence in popularity across the country thanks to the tried and true results. The crops which comprise the trio grown together in these space saving gardens that do not require chemical fertilizers are corn, beans, and squash.

Unlike either conventional methods of gardening or modern vertical gardening designs created to maximum every inch of growing space, the Three Sisters Garden actually works with nature to enrich the soil and to create a low maintenance big yield crop.

A traditional 10 foot by 10-foot square space is used to cultivate a Three Sisters garden. But you can use this planting method to grow in just one square foot of space. The only drawback to shrinking down the growing space is the ears of corn might not grow as full and hardy as they otherwise wood.

Corn, beans, and squash have been dubbed the three sisters because the Iroquois tribe felt they were special gifts from the Great Spirit. They believed each of these staple crops were watched over by one of the three sister spirits known as the Deohako – Our Sustainers.

The tribe members believed beans, corn, and squash only thrived when grown together. Corn provides more energy or calories per acre than any other crop. Corn, beans and squash are complementary to each other nutritionally, as well. The beans are rich in protein, the corn high in carbohydrates, and the squash boasts a substantial amount of vitamins and seed oil.

The Three Sister Garden Plans How To Get The Most Out Of Every Square Feet 3

Native Americans used the Three Sisters Garden plan to foster bountiful harvests in a small amount of space without depleting the soil of the nutrients the crops need to survive.

This particular combination of crops will supply the body with nearly all eight essential amino acids, complex carbohydrates, and fatty acids it needs to maintain strength and survive. During a long-term survival situation, if all your other crops fail and hunting becomes scarce, the Three Sisters garden plan might just save your life.

Some Native American tribes introduce a “fourth sister” into this growing group. Depending upon the tribe, the fourth sister was either bee balm herb or sunflowers.

Either the herb or the flower were used to court not just bees to the garden for pollination, but “squash” or “gourd” bees which were thought to pollinate than any other variety of bee. These highly regarded pollinators are of the Eucerini; Peponapis and Xenoglossa varieties.

Long before massive farming equipment was invented, people still grew and harvested corn – and enough other crops to feed themselves without going to a store or trading. In fact, our forefathers and mothers gardened without even the aid of hardy metal tools and manufactured irrigation systems.

The Three Sisters Garden plan allows you to grow the same way. Not because you have to, but due to the time and space saving benefits, you should want to. This gardening style will provide you with all of the basic and balanced dietary nutritional staples.

Why The Three Sisters Garden Plan Works

  • The corn plants create a natural pole for the beans planted between them to climb.
  • The bean plants improve the fertility of the soil by infusing more nitrogen into the dirt.
  • Bean vines will also serve as a stabilizer for the corn plants. The strength of the vines makes it more difficult for intense wins to bend or break the growing stalks.
  • The squash vines serve as a type of living mulch. They cast shade on weeds that want to reach the sun and grow up between the food crops.
  • Squash plants also stop moisture in the soil from evaporating, which benefits all three of the sisters.
  • The sharp spines on the squash plants also help prevent pests and predators from venturing into the area and feasting upon your growing food source.
  • The leftover and non-edible portions of all three plants can be composted back into the soil where they stand to enrich the structure of the soil for the next growing season.

Related: How to Adjust the pH in Soil and Water for Abundant Harvests

How To Grow The Three Sisters In One Square Foot

Far too often small space gardeners think they cannot grow corn because of the amount of space the crop requires. Using this gardening design, you are garnering triple the amount of crops from the exact same amount of space.The Three Sister Garden Plans How To Get The Most Out Of Every Square Feet 4This gardening style is also often referred to as stacking in space and time. That phrasing truly embodies the basics and most important facets of the Three Sisters plan. It allows you to use the minimum amount of ground area and prep time to garner maximum results.

Planting Tips

#1. Plant the corn, beans, and squash seeds in the spring as soon as the evening temperatures are in the 50 degrees range.

#2. For best results choose either runner beans or pole beans to plant with the corn in the Three Sisters garden.

#3. Use squash and/or pumpkin seed varieties that grow with cascading vines instead of as a more compact bush, are highly recommended.

#4. Select a gardening spot that garners full and direct sun at least six but preferably eight to 10, hours a day.

#5. If you are attempting to grow a Three Sisters garden in sandy soil, for best results you should grow not in a mound shape but in a slight well shape. The well shape will prohibit water from running off far too rapidly.

#6. Cultivating a Three Sisters garden in hard clay soil, making the mound only four to six inches high total, should help enhance drainage.

#7. When planting in a traditional raised bed, some gardeners skip the mound formation altogether because the seeds are being placed in such close quarters and already have a wood boundary around them. If you skip the mound, plant the Three Sisters in a staggered method. The corn goes in back, in a staggered not a straight row. The beans are planted in a straight row in front of the corn. Plant three sets of squash seeds in the front row. One set should be placed evenly in front of the first corn and bean seeds, another in the middle of the two established rows, and another adjacent to the end of the rows of corn and beans.

Related: How $5 A Week Can Get Your Family 295 Pounds Of Food

How to Plant

The Three Sister Garden Plans How To Get The Most Out Of Every Square Feet#1. You do not need to place the Three Sisters garden inside a raised bed style growing plot. But, doing so is recommended for proper positioning and contained growing, whether you choose to make mounds, or not.

#2. You will be essentially making a volcano shape with the dirt. I use a 5-gallon bucket to make an indentation in the soil to form the proper diameter for the mound and build up each growing spot, from there. The diameter for the corn, beans, and squash growing mound should be at last 10 inches wide, but preferably 24 inches wide.

#3. Make a mound using quality compost that is a minimum of 12 inches deep. The top five to six inches of the mound is where the seeds will be planted. The soil in this portion of the mound must be nutrient rich and possess the recommended pH balance for the corn, beans, and squash seeds.

#4. Plant four to six corn seeds in the center of the volcano shaped mound. I recommend soaking the corn seeds in water overnight before planting. The soaking process will cause the corn seeds to swell and enhance the germination process. Water the corn seeds immediately after planting, but be careful not to overload the swollen seeds with moisture or they will mildew.

#5. Wait at least seven days, but preferably 14 days, before adding either squash or bean seeds into the mound. This will allow the corn seeds to sprout and grow about five inches tall.

#6. Plant six beans seeds around the mound. They must be planted in the middle area of the mound and away from the spot the corn seeds were placed. Water the seeds immediately after planting.

#7. Next, plant up to three squash seeds on the outer edge of the mound, past where the bean seeds are being cultivated. Squash plants have very large leaves, do not exceed the three seeds guideline or the vine ground crop will not get enough sun and die. Water the seeds immediately after planting.

#8. Once all of the seeds begin to sprout you may need to weed out any weak producers so they do not suck up nutrients from the soil needlessly. Weak seedlings will likely produce either a diminished crop or one at all.

Once all three sisters are planted in the mound, you will need to water them via the volcano crater style top and not directly onto the leaves of growing plants. When squash leaves are over watered a fungal disease usually develops and then spreads to the rest of the one square foot garden.

Expect the beans to start naturally climbing the corn talks as soon as they grow tall enough to reach them. You can also help train the vines to gently wind around the corn stalks. The vines should then continue to wrap around the stalks like a swirl, as they grow taller.

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Tara Dodrill
By Tara Dodrill March 22, 2019 11:14
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33 Comments

  1. ollie39 March 22, 16:49

    I am interested in growing HEMP on a 4-3/4 acre parcel and need to know all the information I can get to make this work. Would appreciate any and all help.
    Thank You, Al

    Reply to this comment
  2. Sarah March 22, 18:33

    My chickens have completely tore up my backyard. What can I plant that they will leave alone?

    Reply to this comment
    • Gabe March 22, 19:36

      Nothing that you can eat. The beauty of chickens is every plant humans can eat a chicken can also eat and more. There are some toxic/tough ornamentals that they will leave alone depending on where you live you’ll have to choose these. Best thing to do is fence of the area and keep the chickens out.

      Reply to this comment
    • The Ohio Prepper March 22, 22:49

      Sarah,

      My chickens have completely tore up my backyard. What can I plant that they will leave alone?

      A fence!!!
      Seriously, we have a fenced in paddock area for the chickens that allows them to free range without getting hit on the road or eaten by predators. It also confines them to make the daily Easter egg hunt less challenging.

      Reply to this comment
    • red March 26, 02:06

      Cactus. No, they’ll eat that, too. Fence off the garden area and give them a run the same size. If you mulch, then, after frosts kill the garden, switch. Chickens will fertilize the soil and pick up all bugs and seeds.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Char March 22, 19:01

    Great article! I love reading your articles! Could you recommend the type of corn to plant… I live in PA. I tried this years a go and the beans pulled over the corn. I was using a very small space. Now, I have space for a huge garden and would like to try it this year. What are the exact seeds you use when you plant this way?

    Reply to this comment
    • Kurmudgeon March 23, 00:15

      My favorite is Hickory King. They can carry a hefty load of of bean vines without falling over. Note: This is a dent corn, so if you are after a sweet variety, I don’t have a recommendation. Personally, I can’t spare the space for sweet corn, and flint or dent varieties keep pretty much indefinitely until I’m ready to grind up a batch of corn meal.

      Reply to this comment
    • Tara Dodrill March 25, 14:37

      Char,

      Thank you very much, glad the article are helpful. I think we are in the same ag zone – we are in zone 6. We grow silver queen (the only hybrid we grow, everything else is heirloom) and Golden Bantam

      Reply to this comment
  4. CarmenO March 23, 00:16

    Really interesting. My soil is sandy, I had no idea that in that case you are supposed to go down not up. That probably explains why I’ve always had bad luck with the mound. I have the seeds for all three (and the extras) so I’m going to try it this year. I have my finger crossed because if it works, it will be a first for me. Thanks.

    Reply to this comment
    • Tara Dodrill March 25, 14:38

      Hope it works, please let us know how your growing season goes!

      Reply to this comment
    • red March 26, 02:11

      Look up Gabe Brown on YouTube. He farms 5,000 acres, but when he bought the place, then 1,200 acres, from his father-in-law, the soil was 1/2% organic matter. After years of no till and no chemicals, he gets record corn crops and 11% organic matter in N. Dakota, at 16 inches of rain/year. Sandy soil is tougher to tame than clay. But, mulch the heck out of it, and use cardboard over that to deter slugs. A winter crop of oilseed radishes of black Schifferstadt with rye will do wonders.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Storm March 23, 00:27

    I suggest that for those interested in this type of gardening to investigate into raised bed intensive gardens. There are many articles and books about the subject. I have been doing raised bed intensive gardening for about 20 years. The other name for intensive gardening is also known as Square Foot gardening. It works and it works exceptionally well.
    The advantage is you can control the moisture, the soil mix and weeding is very simple and later becomes almost a 1 minute job for an intensive area that is 4 feet by 4 feet square once a week. The 4 square raised unit is easy to reach from the sides and eliminates walking on the garden completely. A 4 foot by 35 foot raised garden planted intensively is very productive and never gets walked down so the soil remains loose and airy plus fish worms are good keepers of the soil in it also.
    Organic gardening with this method is the only way I garden. I have three raised beds 4 feet wide by 50 feet long and spaced 4 feet between them. For a good start look at square foot gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I hope it is still around.
    My grandmother knew companion planting and inter mixed different plantings like the 3 Sisters in her Garden but she had more combinations. Make sure NOT to plant enemy plants next to each other and stay far away from Walnut trees or hulls, they are toxic to a garden.
    Go for it and enjoy some chemical free food.

    Reply to this comment
  6. IvyMike March 23, 00:34

    Very cool article. The 3 Sisters sustained cultural groups throughout North America for thousands of years, large civilizations like the Mississippian mound builders and the Aztecs (the Aztecs ate almost no meat and fed one of the largest cities in the world on nothing but the 3 Sisters) and little bitty ones like the Jumanos who lived in The Chihuahuan Desert along the Rio Grande and Rio Bravo.
    I have eaten an extremely low carb diet for 25 years and it does not include any of the 3 Sisters (except good old boring green beans) but I still grow corn for fun and give it away. This year I am trying a Heirloom variety called Mandan Bride. This is called a flint corn because the kernels are hard and you let them dry on the cob and store the cobs loosely piled up in a corn crib. Perfect for animal feed, for human feed you shell it and grind it and use it for breads, cakes, hominy, grits, mush, etc…flint corn was survival for 19th century American Homesteaders.
    Long ago before I partied my way out of college we learned in Anthropology that combining a grain and a legume (corn and beans) gives you a complete protein. After TEOTWAWKI you are not going to be eating venison, pheasant, and wild boar and keeping to a Keto diet, so articles with this type of info are really important.

    Reply to this comment
  7. The Ohio Prepper March 23, 01:44

    A traditional 10 foot by 10-foot square space is used to cultivate a Three Sisters garden. But you can use this planting method to grow in just one square foot of space.

    One ft2 seems a bit light; but, a 10×10 or larger is something we have decided to try.

    Long before massive farming equipment was invented, people still grew and harvested corn – and enough other crops to feed themselves without going to a store or trading. In fact, our forefathers and mothers gardened without even the aid of hardy metal tools and manufactured irrigation systems.

    Yes, they could use a fire hardened pointed stick and eventually wooden plows followed by wooden metal tipped plowshares; but that was more than a century ago, when feeding themselves was nearly all that mattered and “cash” money wasn’t nearly as important. Once civilization and needed infrastructure began to be required, they eventually needed cash crops to pay the school teacher after getting together an constructing that proverbial one room schoolhouse and outfitting it with desks, a blackboard and a wood or coal stove. While taxes were often paid in labor to construct and maintain the roads, some cash was also required for needed materials.
    According to US census data found here: (https://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/table-4.pdf)
    In 1850 only 15% of the population was urban, with the other 85% rural and mostly farmers who were at least partly self sufficient or lived in communities that were. By 1900 urban populations had risen to 75.2% with rural populations dwindling to 24.8% and a century ago in 1920 the mix was 51% to 49% with the urban population percentage not only growing; but, the population and number of mouths to be fed by those rural farmers, also growing.
    In short, over time the farmers not only had to feed themselves; but, an ever growing urban population, ”requiring” better and more efficient ways to produce more and more food.

    Once all three sisters are planted in the mound, you will need to water them via the volcano crater style top and not directly onto the leaves of growing plants. When squash leaves are over watered a fungal disease usually develops and then spreads to the rest of the one square foot garden.

    Also water droplets on large leaves in the hot direct sun, can each act like a magnifying glass and burn spots on the leaves.

    Expect the beans to start naturally climbing the corn talks as soon as they grow tall enough to reach them. You can also help train the vines to gently wind around the corn stalks. The vines should then continue to wrap around the stalks like a swirl, as they grow taller.

    Having grown all of these separately, I suspect you might also have to train the squash a bit also, perhaps to fan out away from the center.
    I had heard of this method from the history books; but, had never thought of trying it here, so I think we’ll be trying at least a 10×10 plot to see what happens. If I recall from my history, in weak sandy soil, the natives would take the leftovers from fish after cleaning, and bury them in the mound for extra nutrients.

    Reply to this comment
  8. emmer March 23, 03:14

    painted mountain is a flour corn that is very good as sweet corn when it is in the milk stage. it is sturdy and tall and i had had no trouble growing pole beans up the stalks. my favorite for this is withner’s cornfield beans. they are tasty and have giant leaves to help make up for the partial shade they get from the corn stalks.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Rj March 23, 15:24

    A vining squash I discovered a few years ago, that is delicious, is Tatume Squash. When picked the size of a baseball or smaller, it’s a great tasting summer squash or if you miss one, it matures as a winter squash. I read where people deep fry the blooms also. I started growing it , because the squash bugs and bore worms have more trouble killing it. Almost every joint of the vine will put roots into the ground. To keep them from running all over the garden, I pull the runners together, so they’re going east and west and about 2 feet wide. Also, I highly recommend Israel (Ha’Ogen) Melons. Similar to a cantaloupe, but so much more flavor. Order from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and get free shipping. http://www.rareseeds.com Blessings to you and yours…

    Reply to this comment
  10. left coast chuck March 24, 01:22

    This article and the posts supplementing it illustrate what I find so valuable about this website. The original article starts people thinking about how they handled the points raised in it and their supplemental information such as the address of the seed company and the various types of plants to grow make this an incredible resource for us wannabe prepares.

    By the way, if you are in the northern tier of states you will have what is advertised as a fairly good show of the Aurora Borealis tonight. We were hit with a G3 grade coronal mass ejection around noon today. Your gps may direct you to take the wrong turnoff and if you are a ham operator you may have trouble talking to your radio buddy in Murmansk. Other than that, I don’t think there will be any interruption, but it does point out how susceptible we are to CMEs. Good thing it was only a G3 and not an X3, otherwise we might be putting all our preps into motion.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Clergylady March 24, 04:15

    My Mom always grew either Kentucky wonder beans or red runners. Both climb beautifully and bear good sized crops of green beans and dry beans at the end of the growing season. They are heirlooms so saved seed come true year after year. This year I’m growing Kentucky Wonder beans.
    For squash I like sweet pie pumpkins, butter nut Squash or my old favorite, heirloom gray Hubbard. Any of them will spread and cover the ground beautifully. I have all three started. I haven’t decided which to plant with the corn. Our season here is short so I start plants early in plantable pots so transplanting isn’t a big shock.
    I have three types of corn. Eaach has a progressively longer maturity time. I look at length of time from 55 days to 90 days and pick good heirlooms. I also have dent corn grown for corn meal and roasting ears. Not a real sweet corn. Just an easy to grind softer corn when mature and dry.

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  12. Pat March 24, 22:11

    are the beans in the three sisters method planted around the perimeter of the mound? How many coirn seeds are planted in the center only one or are they planted around the tip of the mound? Aflat diagram would help

    Reply to this comment
    • Nancy in WA March 25, 15:17

      Yes, I agree that a diagram or photos would have been very helpful for this article. I am having a hard time visualizing the details of planting.

      Reply to this comment
  13. Clergylady March 25, 18:22

    Pat. Go back and look at the instructions in the article. Your Answers are there.
    I Enjoying the questions and comments.
    I love gardening. I have soil that is typical Adobe construction material. Hard as a rock when dry and mud sticks to your shoes like glue. Lots of clay in it. I’ve just been back a year so not a lot of compost yet. No things like grass clippings available either. I just use a hoe to make rows or plant mounds as described here. I don’t attempt real digging. Its a killer job and just encourages weeds.
    Natives on the reservations here plant their three colors of native dent corn in clumps in rows. Each clump has a deep pit in the middle to catch the summer monsoon rains. The most often grown corn is white. It is used roasted and eated fresh, roasted then hung up to dry for soups and winter stews, or just dried to grind for corn meal. Blue corn is dried and ground for tortillas or a thin drinkable gruel called athole. Red corn is also roasted and eaten fresh or soaked in water that has filtered through ashes to gather lye content. Corn soaked in lye water bursts it’s skin when done. We call that hominy, I can’t pronounce the native word for it. It will keep quite a while. It can also be dried and ground. The fresh hominy is used in chili stews. Dried hominy is ground and becomes corn tortillas or the dough on the outside of tomallies. The husks from corn are dried and used primarily as the outer layer when making tomallies. Some old grandmothers used to make corn husk dolls for the little girls. A lot has changed since I first moved here 42 years ago. Those older women are gone and many crafts seem to be going away with them.
    The fields of corn look odd planted in clumps rather than straight rows of evenly spaced corn but they survive with just the irregular heavy drenching summers monsoon rains. The corn grows on average to 4 or 5 feet tall.
    A grandfather shared seed corn once with my father. One ear each of red, while, and blue corn. My parents lived on an ancient lake bed by a stream that flowed year around. That corn, in rich soil with regular biweekly watering grew 15 feet tall with ears 3 to 4 inches across and averaged 15 to18 inches long. Amazing! He took back pictures and ears of fresh corn when they came for thanksgiving. He took ears and showed pictures that shocked folks as he brought half a bushel of white corn to the man that had given him the seed. He had 3 bushels for us. Still fresh enough to be good roasted in the husks. I dried and saved most for later. That dent corn is rugged stuff. It grows in a harsh mountain desert with cool nights most of the summer because of our altitude at over 6000 feet.
    The old gray Hubbard heirloom squash grown by the native tribes will keep into next summer. So most of a year. They are smaller than those grown elsewhere but very sweet and flavorful. Tough skin. I have to halve them with a hatchet and my 22 oz construction hammer. But the inside is soft and tender when baked or boiled. Too tough to peel well so most often I just bake the halves with a bit of brown sugar and butter. The natives roast them whole in the outdoor ovens where they bake their bread. The squash is then easier to cut. They eat it when hot, save some to cut in 1/4 inch thick slices and sun dry on old white bed sheets, or add to stews to naturally thicken the stews as the roasted squash cooks apart into the broth and totally looses shape. It imparts a subtle sweetness that enhances the flavors without being identifiable. It imparts a silky smoothness to the broth that is really good with any meat in the stew. A redchili stew with prairie dog or rabbit is wonderful with the added richness of the roasted squash. Seeds of roasted squash are lightly salted then allowed to dry, then carried as a snack food. Rather like unpealed, roasted, salted, sunflower seeds. If I split a squash or pumpkin to bake, seeds are saved, boiled, lightly salted then dried in the sun for my husband to snack on. I just keep seed from a choosen best squash or pumpkin to grow again next year. The rest are always snack food. They can keep for months with the bit of salt on them but they seldom last that long.
    The natives all have beans that grow best in their climates. A spotted bean here similar to a dry pinto bean in shape and flavor. It is eaten both as green beans and later as dry beans. In some eastern states the been grown is a type of lima bean. It was most often dried to save for winter. Then it was cooked with dried corn. Fresh with fresh corn is really good as well.
    The liquid from canned fish is saved to mix with water for watering corn. Fish meal can also be used. I don’t have fresh fish to plant in the hills with my corn. The tiny bit added to the water does seem to help growth. I don’t compost old meat but any meat scraps or leftovers not cleaned up by the dog go in the ground where cabbages or broccoli will be planted. Purchased Blood meal and Bone meal work also. The uneaten parts from butchering rabbits and chickens go the the beds where cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and radiccio will be planted. I just work them into the soil then cover that with 6 inches more soil. I top dress all the bed with rabbit droppings at planting time. That feeds early green growth for any plant. As the plants in the bed put down roots they hit the enriched layer and grow bigger and stronger than with anything else I’ve tried. I was gone longer than planned last week so a pound of ground beef spoiled. That will go to the bed for broccoli. I just started seed for those beds over the last couple of weeks. It’s still almost 4 weeks till our last average frost. In two weeks I’ll be covering the beds with black plastic to help the soil warm for the earliest possible planting time. I have some tomatoes already started but I’ll start more of a different variety this week. My Scotch Kale will be started this week as well. Chard, lettuce, radishes and marigolds will soon be sown in the prepared bed. They take cold well and grow fast so there is no need to be started in pots. I love Spring! Panseys take cold but I want some color quickly so they’re already coming up in a large tray of the little planting pellets. They will go in long planter boxes set around the sheds and homes on the property. I could buy panseys already blooming but the money for a reusable plastic tray with 72 pellets and a clear top along with one packet of seed would only buy 12 plants. I’ll have many times that with very little work and a bit of patience.
    My johnny jump ups are up and growing real leaves. That’s a part of my joy in spring. I want them strong by the time I plant them under the ancient apricot tree. They only take a bit of water now and then. They bloom prolificly and reseed themselves. My last planting there kept going for over 20 years with just a bit of water till the summer rains started. They died out when I was gone for 12 years working. I’m back and I just had a tiny raised bed garden while I was moving. This year I’ll again aim for selling at a farmers market 25 miles from here and selling from a table near the road with just an honor box for the money. If the honor box doesn’t work as well as it used to, I’ll just sell when I’m outside working and watering or weeding nearby. I always set out produce at church to giveaway. Families there save egg boxes for me and I set out whatever I have an abundance of.
    I’m going to try an area with swales and berms for catching water when it rains. It will look a bit like shallow bomb craters with a dirt edge built up higher on the slight downhill slope side. When it rains it pours for a bit then no more for days or weeks. Anything we can catch and use is too the good and rainwater is the best on the garden. Our average is less than 12″ of moisture per year. I will plant around the “crater” or swale. The berm on the downside side will be built up with twigs and leaves then covered with soil from the swale. If it works, I’ll prepare more next year.
    Have fun and enjoy the three sisters.

    Reply to this comment
    • red March 26, 02:23

      My soil is cuter than your soil! It’s adobe and coarse sand. It’ll eat away steel in no time. But, what are you using as a cover crop in the fall? Always keep a living root in the soil, agronomists are saying now. Cereal rye will grow about anywhere, and acts as a nurse crop for things that root deep, like clover and oilseed radishes. I can raise garbanzo beans as a winter cover along with greens turnips and so on for a deep tap root. The more humus in the soil, the more moisture it holds. do you have mesquite for the nitrogen? And, you always give good advice. Niio.

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  14. Clergylady March 25, 18:31

    Nancy. Build up dirt to look like a volcano. Make the center a few inches lower than the rim. Make that low area anywhere between 12 and 24 inches across. Plant corn on the built up rim. Plant three squash or pumpkin seed on the inside of the rim but rain the plants to grow out through the row of corn. Plant the beans on the outside of the rim. Water by filling the pit. It should end up watering everything. The walls around the pit shouldn’t be more that 3 or 4 inches thick. So the water can easily soak through to water the beans.

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  15. red March 26, 02:04

    1) If you plant all three, maize, beans, and squash at the same time, the beans will grow on the ground before the maize is tall enough to support it. The squash/pumpkins/cucumbers will overwhelm and smother all of them. Wait till the maize is at least knee-high, then plant the beans. Plant the others around the outside. They have prickly stems and will ward off rabbits and, if the band is wide enough, even deer. Raccoon won’t cross a band of them. The last cultivation of the maize is done when the maize is waist high. At that time, turnips, beets, and other root crops were planted between rows. Everything would be harvested at the same time, with livestock or wild animals then allowed to take what they wanted.

    2) Runner bean blossoms will not pollinate when the temps are above 80 degrees. In east-central Penna, the grandmothers would plant them by their porches for the blooms, but rarely got beans till September. Runners are from the C. American highlands and have some frost resistance and the tuber is harvested to use like a potato. They’re susceptible to spider mites (vines need to be sprayed with water to kill the mites) and some varieties get over 20 feet long. One, a wild variety in the jungle, can grow as long as 60 feet. For most of the US, rattlesnake beans or Kentucky Wonder would be a better choice. I have Yoeme purple because the color deters bean beetles. I also plant Apache Red yardlong (a southern pea).

    5-6) A heavy mulch will build both sand and clay even in the desert. Be warned, if you live in a wetter environment than here, AZ, buy salt. A few grains sprinkled on them will kill slugs and snails, which will destroy the crop. But, slugs and snails hate cardboard. A sister back in the swamps of Penna uses cardboard over mulch. Fish worms love both, and their castings are called the dynamite of fertilizers.

    Here, in the desert, hexagon planting is used. Even in clay soil, make a shallow basin, and if in the desert, buy sulfur at a garden center and use a little at a time. Too much, it kills beneficial fungus and bacteria, none at all, even watering daily can be a waste of time and work. It opens the soil and neutralized caliche, AKA natural baking soda. This is one reason crops do so well after a thunderstorm, it knocks sulfur and negative ions out of the atmosphere.

    Hugelkultur has been used here for centuries, usually by damming a ravine and adding brush and logs. When it rains, it tends to pour and wash away anything close to the water source. When the great drought destroyed the cities of the Anasazi, people moved into canyons and dammed them high up to control flash floods and catch rocks. Below, dams were created, then adobe clay used to line the bottom half to prevent water loss through seepage. Excess water would run between the rocks. That watered the mesquite bosque, and mesquite was always the main crop, anyway.

    Post-garden in the fall, plant oilseed radishes (daikon) or black Schifferstadt. Schifferstadt is so strong, it’s supposed to kill a lot of root pests, but both will send roots as deep as 8 feet to create humus. Add to that cereal rye or winter peas. Rye and radishes will eat up all the fertility they can, then return it as they decay, with some added to it. Peas will add more nitrogen and a little organic matter. I plant garbanzo beans, turnips, radishes, and kohlrabi, and harvest some in the early summer. Because they thrive in our winter, I have to cut the crown off, which kills them to make mulch but leaves the roots to decay and make channels for summer crops’ roots to follow into the depths of out sandy clay wannabe brick soil.

    Right now, the beginning of summer, the garbanzo beans are in bloom, so they’ll get cut, leaving the roots and all that nitrogen in the soil for the chayote, chilis, squash, potatoes, and sugar cane sorghum to use. The Tohono garden peas are in bloom, again. The ground squirrels are abandoning us thanks to Bubba the Terrible (a dachshund), and the rattler that hunts when Bubba isn’t there to challenge him (I bet ya never saw a rattler laugh, did you? 🙂 and that I keep filling in burrows with coffee grounds a la Starbucks. Just in the last year, thanks to trenching the garden, the soil is turning from tan to black. Other than sulfur, no fertilizers are needed. And, best of all, NO DIGGING ALLOWED. It destroys humus, which is the basis of all good soil. Niio.

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  16. Clergylady March 26, 03:55

    Not much seems to survive our high desert winters. Minus 20 happens now and then through the winter. Pretty dry but we defiantly can get some deep snow. A few inches that lasts around a week is more common. It’s the cold and dry that makes growing much harder in the winter. I don’t keep hoses hooked up in winter. They end up brittle and broken.
    Summers average in the 80sF with occasional years that a few weeks top out around 100F. Mostly dry till monsoons start in early July. Frost arrives in September with early snow in late October.
    Mesquite doesn’t grow at this altitude. Pigmy forms of nopal cacti grow here. The big pads and fruits on the ones from lower elevations will grow here but aren’t found except where planted for looks in someone’s expensive front yard. I cleaned a yard just to get two different nopals. One a medium sized pads with long wicked spines. The other with some spines but not too many. It makes very large fruits. I planted them along most of a 400+ ft long property line by a dirt side road. We eat young tender pads and use a lot of the fruits. We eat some fresh, most are juiced to make jelly, syrup, and wine. The day I got those cacti I threw away my clothes. No matter how careful I was they were covered in miserable spines from miniscule to large weapons grade ones.

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  17. Clergylady March 26, 04:36

    42 years ago this area was crawling with prairie rattlers. After years of chasing most off and killing any that were agressive we seldom see one now. My brave little girl, Unfathomable mix, and weighing in at 10 pounds she’ll run off most anything that challenges her place here. Squrrels and wild rabbits have pretty much disappeared. Most dogs run off when she goes after them. Coyotes not so much. One almost killed her 6 weeks ago. She’s healed up and back to guarding us and sleeping in our bed.
    I adopted a pretty little kitten and her sister. The all orange tiger gal disappeared quickly. The mostly white gal with some orange, tabby named Amanda after the pretty actress that played Miss Kitty on Gun Smoke is still with us. She’s expecting litter number 4. I just let the most of them stay as the mice hunting crew around the rabbits. A few find other homes. The same coyote that injured Little Girl went after Leo. He’s a really big muscular tom from Amanda’s first littler. He’s healing up a nasty wound on a hip. He turned on that coyote and ran it off. Wow! Cat gone crazy!
    Every spring means filling in holes that snakes love. Rats and snakes will steal eggs and kill baby chicks. But the ones here are so cute. They are all kangaroo rats. Glad the cats keep the numbers down. The voles look like mini mice. So tiny. Their winter trails in the snow are unmistakeable. They tunnel in the snow but make a raised top so their trail stands up above the top of the snow. They love scratch grains so I see their paths around the chicken pen. The kittens start by hunting voles in winter. Fun to watch.

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    • red March 27, 03:29

      Ouch, sounds desolate. We get damp winters and hot, dry summers, usually around 112 all summer, till the monsoons. If mesquite won’t grow, you must be over 5,000 feet. I got moringia seeds and will try them this summer. for me, they make mulch and root into the dirt to build the soil. I’m extending one garden trench and going to plant cypress poles to make a trellis for Arizona hops. But, rye would still make a good cover crop to eat up any leftover fertility. Some varieties can take cold down to 40 below. When it starts to ‘bloom’ mow it off and it’ll die, leaving a thick mulch.

      I am NOT a cat person. Bad enough with strays around, attracting snakes and coyotes. I know about picking spines. the little ones are worse than the spikes. Native Americans use tongs to pick pads and fruit, then scorch off the spines. But, I have Santa Rita in 5 different patches in the yard, and will knock it out to make room for agaves and so on.

      Hmm, I’m thinking…(note, please, no smoke! 🙂 How well do grapes do for you? Even Concord is supposed to be somewhat drought resistant. I know aggies in New England have varieties that will thrive in deep freeze. Some were developed by Montana U and N. Dakota for their Arctic winters. Apples, as well, if you don’t mind standard, which tend to root deeper and live for longer than others.If nothing else, Witney crabs are ‘way hardy and make good jelly. We use the pulp to mix with sweet, insipid apples to can sauce.Sauce we use far more than fresh apples. Nana’s Peanut Butter Apple Sauce. 1 quart sauce, half a stick of butter, 1/2 cup sugar, apple pie spice to taste. Nana’s recipe calls for half a pound of cream cheese, as well. Touch of unsulfured molasses, heaping teaspoon of peanut butter.Melt butter and peanut butter together, add sugar and spices, molasses. put apple sauce in food processor, when sugar is melted into the butter, mix well. I think that’s all the ingredients. It can be used as pancake topping or with starch, in apple pudding pie. On molasses, it takes 1 level teaspoon to one cup white sugar to make brown sugar.

      thinking…Pie cherries like bitter winters. But, sand cherries are better because they don’t care for much water. They used to be common all across the US and into Alaska. Rabbits will gnaw them to the ground after leaf-drop. It takes two to make a crop, but Gurney’s has them in bundles of three. They’ll sucker and when the cherries ripen, tend to lean over and root in. the cherries have to be dead ripe to be sweet. They’re related to rum cherries. If you have an aggie number, Lawyer Nurseries can sell them by the dozen or the thousand. Sand cherries should bloom when they’re 3 years old. It’s a long bloom, and while that’s not good for commercial orchards, it means few if any blooms being killed by late frosts. Gueney’s used to sell Paha Sapa plums, as well, native to S. Dakota and drought resistant. Anything non-native would need to be white washed to prevent bark cracking in the winter. And, I better git. niio!

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    • Linda H March 27, 04:13

      Clergylady, I have found that pure peppermint oil will keep any rodent away. I had trouble with oposums getting in my house. I caught 3 and took them to live somewhere else to live. I don’t like poison. With the peppermint oil my home and car is rodent free.

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