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Aug 19, 2018 12:23 PM CST
Vermont (Zone 4b)
So I tried the "Three Sisters" method this year for the first time in one of my beds. I waited until the corn was at least 6" before planting the beans, as directed. However the beans are overwhelming the corn stalks, weighing them down and toppling them over. Sad What did I do wrong? Not wait long enough before planting the beans? Wrong variety corn or beans?
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Aug 19, 2018 1:57 PM CST
Name: Dillard Haley
Augusta Georgia (Zone 8a)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level
Three sisters is a difficult concept which give most folks trouble. First it takes a sturdy field corn variety to hold up the beans. Second lt it takes more space than most folks realize. Back in the day corn was checkplanted on 42 inch centers one plant per hill. Third fertility was low so one did not have the huge plants common to day. Most of P. vulgaris pole beans available to day will work, but corn variety is critical. Spacing is critical for the squash. They need sunlight, not full but enough to grow. The method is credited to native Americans, but I do not know methods attributed to the many tribes who grew corn. The Cherokee planted seven stalks to a hill three steps apart. beans planted with corn, squash in the open space. Originally done with a digging stick with little or no enrichment of the soil.
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Aug 19, 2018 3:58 PM CST
Vermont (Zone 4b)
farmerdill said:First it takes a sturdy field corn variety to hold up the beans.


I think this is where I went wrong. I finally did find an article at GardensAlive DOT com (can't post links yet):

You'd plant varieties of flour corn whose stalks were especially sturdy, so they could handle the bean vines that would be tugging at them.... I wouldn't advise trying this technique with regular sweet corn or string beans... the stalks of modern sweet corns just aren't strong enough to support vigorous bean vines.


I fear neither my corn nor my beans will be happy this year. Sad
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Aug 26, 2018 11:22 AM CST
Name: Sally
central Maryland (Zone 7b)
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Great information, thanks!
Plant it and they will come.
Avatar for FrugalGramma
Sep 6, 2018 7:54 PM CST
Cleveland, OH (Zone 6a)
sremick said:So I tried the "Three Sisters" method this year for the first time in one of my beds. I waited until the corn was at least 6" before planting the beans, as directed. However the beans are overwhelming the corn stalks, weighing them down and toppling them over. Sad What did I do wrong? Not wait long enough before planting the beans? Wrong variety corn or beans?


I also had the same problem. At the community garden the beans took down the corn... and the squash was so shaded the insects and diseases could not be overcome. I harvested 1 zucchini and 2 ears of corn there. Then the big pile of bean vines made it impossible to harvest. Here at home I planted the half runner pinto beans on the corn and they were better, but still a big mess. The beans overcame the corn cobs, too, strangling them! The squash has finally taken off now that the corn and beans are done. It was not worth all of the work. I am sorry that you also tried this and had the same problems.
Avatar for RpR
Sep 6, 2018 8:26 PM CST
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
The Indians did it due to necessity not because it was the best way to plant.
If you plant , plants so they interfere with each other, only one will benefit while the other two will suffer.
Modern hybrid sweet corn , especially those created in the past ten years, DO NOT have strong stalks.
Older sweet corn stalks often were over six feet tall and were hefty, hefty, hefty.
Many new ones do not reach six feet and are wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. I tip my hat to you.
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Sep 8, 2018 6:57 AM CST

I've asked my grandmother about this concept and said her own grandfather used this method "well before the war", so we are talking the 30's here.

She said they used a corn cultivar locally nicknamed "Big Stick", which had stalks about 4" in diameter. I have no idea what cultivar this was and my grandmother says she hasn't seen it used since the early 50's, so it's probably extinct.
As Dill said above, they used no soil enrichment of any kind and each corn stalk had 3-4ft between each other. Intriguingly enough they did not plant squashes among corn but gourds and especially pumpkins: the latter were of the smaller, dark-rinded European varieties such as Styrian and Piacentina, good for long-term storage and/or pumpkin seed oil.
I think they used one of the many heirloom varieties of green kidney beans, and my grandmother and her sisters were sent to pick the beans and thin out the foliage every few days, precisely to avoid the vines from becoming too heavy and overwhelming the corn.

I hope it was useful for you people: personally I have not enough room here to experiment with this method.Too busy trying out eggplants and tomatoes anyway.
The Saviour.
Avatar for EddieG
Jan 14, 2019 11:05 AM CST
Name: Eddie
Clemson,SC
I have done this successfully in the past using Merit Field Corn ( not Merit Sweet Corn) . I had a neighbor then(80's) that still had a mill at his house and we ground our on corn meal. I no long grow field corn and now plant bush beans.
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