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Square Foot Gardening Forum
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3 sisters Toplef103 sisters 1zd3ho10

Hello Guest!
Welcome to the official Square Foot Gardening Forum.
There's lots to learn here by reading as a guest. However, if you become a member (it's free, ad free and spam-free) you'll have access to our large vermiculite databases, our seed exchange spreadsheets, Mel's Mix calculator, and many more members' pictures in the Gallery. Enjoy.

3 sisters I22gcj103 sisters 14dhcg10

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Post  lisaphoto 2/6/2012, 11:56 am

I know there are a lot of posts on here about the 3 sisters way of planting. I am wanting to do this year, but am wondering the spacing and positioning of each crop. For example, I saw some people who had a bunch of squares of corn (more than just the center) and had beans in the same square. I've also seen conflicting reports of how many per square and such. The main thing I want to grow is corn. I thought about doing a square of just the corn, but then I read that the squash help protect the corn from critters.

Any help is appreciated
lisaphoto
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Post  rhanford 2/6/2012, 3:41 pm

I am working on the same thing. I don't exactly plan on using the SFM, but I am not negating it either. Two sights I found useful in planing:

General Overview:
reneesgarden

Same thing slight variation:
sudbury.patch grow-your-own-wampanoag-three-sisters-garden
(Using the PDF photo you can make it larger to see the detail.)

Not sure if this helps, but definitely keep me posted as I am attempting the same. Smile
(because I am new it wouldn't let me post the links, but I hope I gave you enough info to be able to google it)
rhanford
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Post  jpatti 2/11/2012, 10:17 am

The thing is, if you mostly want SWEET corn and GREEN beans, this method might not be for you - UNLESS you SFG it in a 4x4 plot.

Reason being, if you grow sweet corn, and grow pole beans up it, and squash to fill in the spaces, then in order to harvest the sweet corn when it's ready, you have to trample the squash and kinda tear down the pole beans to get to the corn.

The traditional 3 sisters was a field corn (used for grain) and a pole bean (a drying type bean, not fresh green beans) and a winter squash... you left the corn and beans to dry on their vines until the squash was ready to harvest. It was food for the winter, not summer. It made a LOT of food with little work because of the symbiosis of the way these plants grow. You can do large plots like this... and it's handy IF you want corn meal or flour or hominy, dried beans and winter squash. You plant corn, hoe and fertilize until it gets going, then plant beans near each corn plant (and quit fertilizing), then plant squash (and quit weeding) and just let it go for the rest of the growing season and get a big bunch of food all at once. I did it once in a 10 by 10 plot and it's kinda neat.

Now in a 4x4 SFG, if you grow corn in the middle 4 squares, plant beans around them and then add squash to the outer squares... you can reach in and harvest sweet corn and green beans without disturbing the squash. And because you can reach in to harvest, the squash doesn't really have to be a winter squash either, could be a summer squash or even a zucchini.

I'm not sure what Mel would say or if he covered it in the new book, been a while since I read that.

If it were me, I'd start sweet corn at 2/sq ft in the four center squares, sort of diagonally in each square (imagine each square sliced into a triangle and plant one in each, in fresh MM or stuff you added lots of compost to since last growing season (corn needs a lot of nitrogen, and isn't getting it from the beans yet). Once the corn was maybe 4-6 inches high, I'd weed the whole thing well and plant 2-3 pole bean seeds with inoculant at the base of each corn plant. At the same time I planted the bean seeds, I'd transplant 4 squash seedlings, in the middle of each of the sides (so squash at one per 2 square feet).

That leaves everything planted except the outermost corners, which will fill in with the squash anyways. As I recall, the "official" SFG spacing for bush squash is one per NINE squares, so expect it to sprawl around a lot.

You can let the squash sprawl out of the box in one or two directions, but would have to prune it in at least 2 directions in order to keep the ability to harvest corn and beans in the middle without trampling.
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Post  rhanford 2/11/2012, 12:41 pm

Jpatti,

Is just the four center garden squares enough for pollination? I am mainily planting a non-SFG style set up because I think it will be pretty and edible. In the future though I won't have the space that I have now. Everything I have read says 10x10 spacing for good pollination, or 5x5 for a less reliable pollination. I have never grown corn before, so i am curious.
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Post  lisaphoto 2/11/2012, 1:17 pm

Could it be 4 foot wide but maybe longer? say a 4x12? Then I could still be able to reach in, but would have more growing space. I just tried laying it out on this chart. Imagine all spaces where there is corn having beans as well. The corners are zucchini with room to bush out. The winter squash vines could meander around in the empty spaces. Not sure if those are too close together.

3 sisters 3siste10
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Post  jpatti 2/11/2012, 1:59 pm

As for the pollination of corn, with row crops, you need a minimum because corn is wind pollinated and the rows are so wide. But home gardeners have grown it in "hills" for a long time, where you plant 4-6 seeds right together close. And cause it's close, it manages to pollinate without needing gobs of corn. I think this is why the SFG thing with corn works.

Here is my overall thinking on your plan and why I said what I did... generally, Mel says 4 corn/square and 8 beans/square. Since they are "sharing" the square, I think half as much corn. And I'd go with only 2-3 beans instead of 4 cause... well, it seems to me 4 is a LOT of beans and might pull down the corn. I'd probably plant 3 at each cornstalk and then only let 2 grow, snipping the third off with scissors if I got 100% germination.

On your plan, I would leave the corn and beans where you have them.

The eight squares on the end, I'd plant ONE zucchini or bush summer squash in the middle of each of those 8 squares. The "normal" SFG thing for bush squash is a 3 x 3 area, so that should work and still get some growth on each end into the "three sisters" area.

Then on the long ends, if one of them is on the north side, I would grow trellised squash about the way you have them, one to two squares. But the one that is not on the north (or both if neither is north), I would just grow ONE winter squash or pumpkin along each end. These things REALLY sprawl. But if you shove the vines back into the squares, you might get them "trained" to sprawl where you want, within the bed, so you can still harvest easily.

The four corners could probably be planted to lettuce or radishes or something else fast-growing until the squash fills them in.

I'm explaining my logic so you can convince yourself or not. Wink

I'm not a master gardener or a SFG teacher or anything... this is just what I would try if I were planting that bed to 3 sisters myself.

The only time I did 3 sisters myself was in a 10 x 10 ground plot, not SFG at all, and the more traditional field corn/dry bean/winter squash mixture.
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Post  lisaphoto 2/11/2012, 2:54 pm

Thanks jpatti! I think I am going to sub two of the north winter squash with Watermelon, and let it all sprawl into the space North of the garden. The Zucchini will be allowed to overflow the garden as well, I also tend to trim them as well and maneuver them around if needed . I will probably cut back on the winter squash to the south as you suggested. I figure, I can always pull stuff or prune if needed. Thanks for the spacing on the beans and corn, that's exactly what I was looking for!
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Post  FamilyGardening 2/11/2012, 7:19 pm

We are going to do two different three sisters gardens this year…….to compare the growing methods to see which one works the best for us J

last year our very first three sisters garden was our back garden in ground and it did very well......we planted 4 corn per mound with one bean per corn and then alternated the mounds with corn and squash/pumpkins…….we didn’t get as much of a harvest for the beans that we would have liked so this year we are planting the three sisters a bit different to see how the harvest goes……the squash/pumpkins are going to be planted on the perimeter of the garden to guard the sisters from the coons J the corn is going to planted in blocks and the beans are going to be trellised…..

We are also going to plant an heirloom three sisters in one of our SFG 4x4 box…..again we are going to trellis the beans and have the corn in the middle with the pumpkins planted in the corner squares

I hope we can continue a three sister Thursday like we did last year…..it was great to watch the gardens grow and I love to see pic’s of every ones gardens J plus I loved having a spot each week to post pics of our garden too!

hugs

rose
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Post  lisaphoto 2/13/2012, 9:13 am

Next question, should I stagger the planting, so I get a longer harvest. Or do I plant all the corn so they pollinate the best?
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Post  jpatti 2/13/2012, 9:32 am

I would suggest planting at least 4 blocks at a time to get decent pollination.

Also, you can stagger without different planting times. Heirloom varieties like Golden Bantam and Country Gentleman tend to stagger themselves some.

And you can also just plant every set of 4 blocks with a corn that has a different time-to-harvest. The trick there is to make sure they're not incompatible... some kinds when they germinate others tend top screw them up. Seed catalogs will tell you about this, which varieties are incompatible.

However if the timing is different ENOUGH they won't interfere anyways. If one batch of corn has it's seeds filled out before the enxt has pollen, you've avoided those problems.
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3 sisters Empty What about multiple varieties if of beans and squash?

Post  rhanford 2/13/2012, 12:26 pm

I plan on the corn all being the same, but I do have quite a bit of seed for squash, pumpkin, and cucumbers. I also have two tyes of bean, and one pea. Should I keep everything the same (same bean and squash without)?
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Post  jpatti 2/13/2012, 12:35 pm

If you're not saving seed from your crops, it should be fine to grow squash, pumpkin and cukes together.

The seed is not the crop - you're going to eat the fruit; in the case of corn, the seed is what we're after so inadvertent pollination can ruin a sweet corn.
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Post  Furbalsmom 2/13/2012, 8:10 pm

jpatti, what a nice explanation of when to worry about cross pollination and when not to worry.

Sounds so simple this way.
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