The Three Sisters

Dave and I final­ly got around to plant­i­ng some­thing in the far field today. Even though we wake up at the crack of dawn, it nev­er seems like the days are long enough.

We want­ed to try grow­ing a lit­tle bit of corn this year, just to see how it goes. In my per­ma­cul­ture (per­ma­cul­ture: a sys­tem of cul­ti­va­tion intend­ed to main­tain per­ma­nent agri­cul­ture or hor­ti­cul­ture by rely­ing on renew­able resources and a self-sus­tain­ing ecosys­tem) book I’ve been read­ing about cre­at­ing poly cul­tures, or in oth­er words, com­pan­ion plant­i­ng. The idea is that instead of main­tain­ing clas­si­cal­ly straight and monot­o­nous rows of one kind of plant, you mix veg­eta­bles togeth­er that are mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial. One of the most famous guilds (plant com­bi­na­tions) is the Native Amer­i­can “three sis­ters”: corn, beans and squash. The corn cre­ates a trel­lis for the beans, the beans fix nitro­gen in the soil and improve it, and the squash cov­ers the ground and inhibits weeds. Togeth­er, these three plants cre­ate a bet­ter prod­uct, using less space and requir­ing less effort.

                                                                                         The Legend:

?nce upon a time very long ago, there were three sis­ters who lived togeth­er in a field. These sis­ters were quite dif­fer­ent from one anoth­er in their size and also in their way of dress­ing. One of the three was a lit­tle sis­ter, so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green. The sec­ond of the three wore a frock of bright yel­low, and she had a way of run­ning off by her­self when the sun shone and the soft wind blew in her face. The third was the eldest sis­ter, stand­ing always very straight and tall above the oth­er sis­ters and try­ing to guard them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yel­low hair that tossed about her head in the breezes.
There was only one way in which the three sis­ters were alike. They loved one anoth­er very dear­ly, and they were nev­er sep­a­rat­ed. They were sure that they would not be able to live apart.
After awhile a stranger came to the field of the three sis­ters, a lit­tle Indi­an boy. He was as straight as an arrow and as fear­less as the eagle that cir­cled the sky above his head. He knew the way of talk­ing to the birds and the small broth­ers of the earth, the shrew, the chip­munk, and the young fox­es. And the three sis­ters, the one who was just able to crawl, the one in the yel­low frock, and the one with the flow­ing hair, were very much inter­est­ed in the lit­tle Indi­an boy. They watched him fit his arrow in his bow, saw him carve a bowl with his stone knife, and won­dered where he went at night.
Late in the sum­mer of the first com­ing of the Indi­an boy to their field, one of the three sis­ters dis­ap­peared. This was the youngest sis­ter in green, the sis­ter who could only creep. She was scarce­ly able to stand alone in the field unless she had a stick to which she clung. Her sis­ters mourned for her until the fall, but she did not return.
Once more the Indi­an boy came to the field of the three sis­ters. He came to gath­er reeds at the edge of a stream near­by to make arrow shafts. The two sis­ters who were left watched him and gazed with won­der at the prints of his moc­casins in the earth that marked his trail.
That night the sec­ond of the sis­ters left, the one who was dressed in yel­low and who always want­ed to run away. She left no mark of her going, but it may have been that she set her feet in the moc­casin tracks of the lit­tle Indi­an boy.
Now there was but one of the sis­ters left. Tall and straight she stood in the field not once bow­ing her head with sor­row, but it seemed to her that she could not live there alone. The days grew short­er and the nights were cold­er. Her green shawl fad­ed and grew thin and old. Her hair, once long and gold­en, was tan­gled by the wind. Day and night she sighed for her sis­ters to return to her, but they did not hear her. Her voice when she tried to call to them was low and plain­tive like the wind.
But one day when it was the sea­son of the har­vest, the lit­tle Indi­an boy heard the cry­ing of the third sis­ter who had been left to mourn there in the field. He felt sor­ry for her, and he took her in his arms and car­ried her to the lodge of his father and moth­er. Oh what a sur­prise await­ed here there! Her two lost sis­ters were there in the lodge of the lit­tle Indi­an boy, safe and very glad to see her. They had been curi­ous about the Indi­an boy, and they had gone home with him to see how and where he lived. They had liked his warm cave so well that they had decid­ed now that win­ter was com­ing on to stay with him. And they were doing all they could to be useful.
The lit­tle sis­ter in green, now quite grown up, was help­ing to keep the din­ner pot full. The sis­ter in yel­low sat on the shelf dry­ing her­self, for she planned to fill the din­ner pot lat­er. The third sis­ter joined them, ready to grind meal for the Indi­an boy. And the three were nev­er sep­a­rat­ed again.
Every child of today knows these sis­ters and needs them just as much as the lit­tle Indi­an boy did. For the lit­tle sis­ter in green is the bean. Her sis­ter in yel­low is the squash, and the elder sis­ter with long flow­ing hair of yel­low and the green shawl is the corn.
–A Mohawk leg­end
First, Dave and I marked off a 20 by 25 foot space in the sec­ond field, and then divid­ed it into six 20 foot rows with stakes and string.

Then, we marked the string every 5 feet to sig­nal where to cen­ter our mounds. Mound­ing the soil is the tra­di­tion­al way to plant the three sis­ters, at least in this cli­mate and soil, because it allows for bet­ter drainage. We stag­gered the spac­ing in adja­cent rows. Before shap­ing the mounds, we dug a lit­tle hole and buried fish car­cass­es from my mom’s freez­er (you may remem­ber from Amer­i­can His­to­ry class that this was anoth­er Native Amer­i­can trick). Then, a scoop of com­post on top of that, and then, final­ly, we raked the mounds.
That’s a floun­der, in case you can’t tell.
Dave is 1/32 Chero­kee, in case you can’t tell
The Final Product!
It’s hard to take good pic­ture of dirt.
In each mound we plant­ed four corn seeds, 6 inch­es apart. The got a cou­ple nice, soft sum­mer rains this after­noon so hope­ful­ly they’re off to a good start. We’ll wait to plant the beans and squash until the corn is a lit­tle bit big­ger, so the fast grow­ing vines don’t over­whelm the lit­tle seedling.


One Response to “The Three Sisters”

  1. freezerbeef says:

    >Best depic­tion of Dirt ever. Dave is great for scale.
    You can almost smell the filth and the buried dead fish-heads.

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