Saturday, May 10, 2008

Three Sisters Permaculture Garden


We noticed a underutilized resource at the chicken house recently so I put on my thinking cap and came up with a solution to the problem.

The chook house sits on the west of the property boarder and has a fairly good flow of water running thru or near it when it rains.The chickens are fenced with a dog run around the outside to protect them from foxes.They don't get to free range as the neighbors are concerned about influenza spread by birds so they stay in the pen always.I am designing a tractoring system to get them into the gardens,but more on that later.

Because they have been housed there for so long,manure has built up in the soil and gets washed thru the soil when it rains.I saw this as an opportunity to look at using the Three Sisters technique (corn,beans,squash) here as corn requires chicken manure and is a heavy feeder.We can get our fertilizing done with little or no energy from us.It will be all done by the chickens and the rain(nature).This is using "Relative Location",a principle of Permaculture where we locate things at the best appropriate place for utilizing energies.It also lets us use elements of the system to do more than one function for the system.Here is a quick run down of how I see it working.

The chickens will shit and the rain will wash it thru the soil making it available for the corn,beans,squash and other plants.The fence protects the chickens from the fox and is a trellis for cucumbers and beans that will also shade the dog in his run.The dog will protect the chickens from the fox and protect the corn from the deer that usually eat it.The corn will act as a trellis for the beans and protect the chickens from the wind.The position of the garden is also good as the corn will get good afternoon sun which it likes.There are heaps of other functions happening in the system and we are always coming up with more ideas.

So we started building the garden after Masa was so excited with the conceptual plan.We got the resources we needed in the form of compost and straw from a nearby dairy farm.There was a large pile of rocks in the way so I attacked them with the excavator we have on site to give us plenty of room for wandering pumpkin vines.Next saw me leveling the area as it have a bit of slope and I wanted to create beds that would hold water when it rained.Once we leveled the area we found that we had a stepped area separating what was going to be one big garden.A quick redesign and we put in a small rock wall utilizing the rocks from the pile and adding a feature to the garden.We added the compost into where the rows of the garden and rotary hoed it into the soil.A little bit of work saw the bed separated into rows that the corm will grow and then finally straw to mulch the beds to retain moisture.And there it is completed and ready to plant.

We had seeded up lots of the required plants for the garden and wait for them to br ready for transplanting into the garden.We will consecutively plant the crops so we have a continual supply to the kitchen over the harvest period and it will also look nice with the crops at different growing stages.

Borage has also been introduced to the garden as a companion ,as has German chamomile.Some flowering herbs like cosmos and marigold or calendula will also be added for color and to attract bees to pollinate the fruiting vegies.So we will have a very mixed garden that will function well and all the plants will help each other in some way.Some small rock structures will be made amongst the garden to attract lizards and frogs to live and they will be predators for the insects that come to munch on the plants.

A recent clean out of the chook house has created a surplus of chook poo which we will keep stored for compost making and then feed the plants with that compost.All the resources are very close to the chook house so we can make it right there and use it right there with minimal travel to the garden.The nutrient from the compost pile will go into the soil also and feed plants that are up slope from the chickens.

According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. Growing a Three Sisters garden is a wonderful way to feel more connected to the history of this land, regardless of our ancestry.

Corn, beans and squash were among the first important crops domesticated by ancient Mesoamerican societies. Corn was the primary crop, providing more calories or energy per acre than any other. According to Three Sisters legends corn must grow in community with other crops rather than on its own - it needs the beneficial company and aide of its companions.

The Iroquois believe corn, beans and squash are precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each watched over by one of three sisters spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or “Our Sustainers". The planting season is marked by ceremonies to honor them, and a festival commemorates the first harvest of “green” corn on the cob. By retelling the stories and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the Three Sisters through generations.

Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years’ corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops’ chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the mound at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter in the soil and improve its structure.

Corn, beans and squash also complement each other nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates, the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds.

Native Americans kept this system in practice for centuries without the modern conceptual vocabulary we use today, i.e. soil nitrogen, vitamins, etc. They often look for signs in their environment that indicate the right soil temperature and weather for planting corn, i.e. when the Canada geese return or the dogwood leaves reach the size of a squirrel’s ear. You may wish to record such signs as you observe in your garden and neighborhood so that, depending on how well you judged the timing, you can watch for them again next season!

Early European settlers would certainly never have survived without the gift of the Three Sisters from the Native Americans, the story behind our Thanksgiving celebration. Celebrating the importance of these gifts, not only to the Pilgrims but also to civilizations around the globe that readily adopted these New World crops, adds meaning to modern garden practices

Success with a Three Sisters garden involves careful attention to timing, seed spacing, and varieties. In many areas, if you simply plant all three in the same hole at the same time, the result will be a snarl of vines in which the corn gets overwhelmed.

1 comment:

erin said...

I'm wondering how your 3 sisters garden is going. I have one myself going here in upstate NY. Just wanted to compare notes.