Three Sisters Method of Sustainable Agriculture
The Three Sisters Method of Planting in the Americas was practiced in several forms by numerous tribes and was taught by the Iroquois to the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. As with the example of the Balinese water temples Native Americans exhibited in their Three Sisters Method a synthesis of engineering know-how within their culture and spirituality that today are appreciated by agronomists as an efficient form of sustainable agricultural.
The three sister plants are corn, beans and squash grown together in a mound that modern agronomists refer to as companion planting and no-till polyculture as opposed to single crops grown in tilled row monoculture.
The 1st sister is corn planted as legend would have it when the dogwood leaves are the size of a squirrels' ear. Corn is the tall and strong sister that serves as the engine for all three plants and producing the most caloric energy & protein content while being the most disease resistant & hardy.
There are multiple methods for laying out the native Three Sisters planting based on tribal practice with all having in common plantings in clusters on low, wide mounds with corn at the core of these systems. Iroquois natives taught early colonial settlers the Circular Wampanoag Method. There was also the Hidatsa & Zuni Waffle Methods.
The 2nd sister is the bean which is planted one week after the corn is established at six inches to a foot tall. The beans climb the corn like a trellis. Beans and other legumes in their symbiotic relationship with bacteria convert nitrogen into bioavailable fertilizer for the other sisters. Beans are a rich source of protein and amino acids that with corn provide a complete high-quality protein.
The 3rd sister Squash with its big leaves provides protected ground cover for all three of the companion crops with a mulching effect conserving water and preventing soil erosion. Squash, like pumpkin, are good sources of calories, vitamins and minerals to complete the Three Sister Method.
Growing on mounds benefitted the plants by warming early & drying out faster than surrounding soil and concentrated composting fertilization on the mounds while aiding aeration, water absorption and reducing soil erosion associated with Western agricultural practices.
Appreciating the connection that healthy plant ecosystems have extends to our relationships with each other.
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