Solutions for Self-Reliance

Harvesting the Three Sisters Garden for Self-Sufficiency

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There was a time long ago when most Americans planted, cultivated, harvested and ate their own crops. The fresh bounty of nutritional foods grown in fertile fields formed the foundation of American diets.

But then something happened. Big agri-corporations such as Monsanto, with the help of the federal government, infiltrated the tables of Americans who were used to consuming their locally grown fruits, vegetable, and meats that also provided them with sustenance.

With federal government approval and subsidies, Monsanto created ways to modify crops genetically to enhance yield, but the GMOs have not enhanced our health. We can no longer afford to rely on big business and the federal government to do what is right for us, what is healthy for us. We can get back to our American roots by implementing a novel, yet time-honored Native American farming method called the Three Sisters.

Overview of the Three Sisters

Native Americans have planted the Three Sisters of corn, beans, and squash for centuries. The traditional planting of the Three Sisters garden creates a self-sustaining ecosystem that balances the needs of plants and animals. Three Sisters gardening serves as the model for a wide variety of inter-cropping systems that thrive throughout the world. The successful system augments agricultural productivity in areas that face acute food shortages, without requiring the use of environmentally harmful pesticides and herbicides.

Benefits of Planting the Three Sisters

In addition to eliminating harmful chemicals that destroy the soil and damage the living environments of other plants and animals, Three Sisters planting provides you with an efficient way to grow crops on less land. The interconnection of each of the Three Sisters reduces the amount of row cropping that takes up most, if not all of a planter’s land. Farmers who use the Three Sisters method of planting report they use the saved farmland to plant other crops or raise livestock in areas that were once covered with crops.

Growing your own vegetables also ensures you reap the benefits of land to table nutrition. Fresh corn kernels burst with antioxidants and vitamins that ward off illnesses, as well as comprise a vital source for minerals. String beans represent one of the best food sources for dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate. Squash contains the highest level of vitamin A and carotenes. Together, the Three Sisters fill the nutritional void experienced by a vast majority of Americans.

How the Three Sisters Benefit Each Other

The vegetables that comprise the Three Sisters not only provide several benefits for you, the plants also benefit each other by bringing unique attributes to the proverbial table. Think about what each plant needs to grow into a healthy vegetable. Corn requires plenty of space to grow. Beans need a support system for the stalks to grow straight. Both squash and corn thrive on nitrogen, which typically does not flourish in sandy soils. Now, let’s think about how the vegetable compensate for their growing deficiencies.

Corn offers string beans the sturdy support to grow straight. Think of a cornstalk as a naturally developing trellis that ensures string beans remain upright. String beans absorb nitrogen from the surrounding air and replenish nitrogen-deficient soil. The upward growing vegetables also act as a bind that keeps the Three Sisters close together, further enhancing the space you have to grow other crops or raise livestock. Sprawling squash creates copious amounts of mulch that cools and moistens the soil. Squash leaves also contain prickly stems that thwart the best attempt of critters such as raccoons from enjoying sumptuous meals.

A Crash Course in Growing the Three Sisters

You should plant the seeds of the Three Sisters when spring nighttime temperatures consistently remain above 50 degrees. Then you need to learn how to plant each of the three vegetable to maximize your yield.

The Layout

Plant the corn in several mounds that span several rows within a 10 by 10 foot garden space. You must plant corn in several rows to encourage sufficient pollination. The 10 by 10 foot planting area should comprise mounds of soil that reach about a foot tall and four feet wide. Your Three Sisters should grow in a space that receives a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight every day during the growing season. Enhance the soil by adding compost to negate corn’s propensity to devour nitrogen. You can mark off the corn rows with strings to provide you more clarity.

The Technique

Create the soil mounds for each corn row. The center of each planting mound should sit five feet away from the center of the next mound. Stagger the mounds in the adjacent row to ensure the plants do not compete for moisture and nitrogen. Many gardening experts recommend raising the soil around the mound edges to trap more moisture. For this size garden, plant four corn seeds in each mound. Once the corn attains a height of four inches, plant the bean and squash seeds. The four bean seeds should sit three inches apart from each other. Plant the squash seeds in the soil between each of the corn and bean mounds. Once the squash seeds sprout plants, thin the squash down to only two plans between each mound. Remember to weed the planting area constantly to prevent oxygen, moisture, and nitrogen deprivation.

Rely on Yourself, Not the Government

The federal government, in its immense hubris, wants Americans to depend on services that include food programs that mitigate the duress caused by national emergencies. As we have seen during and after countless national calamities (Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, etc.) the federal government does a poor job of helping victims overcome the loss of power and fuel to produce healthy meals. If you pick one reason why you should start your own Three Sisters garden, that reason should be weaning yourself from government dependency.

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