Ancient Wisdoms - written by Naz

The Three Sisters Planting is a method of growing vegetables originally created by the indigenous people of America. The basic principles seem to follow the current trend for companion planting, in that each plant benefits and is benefitted by others. My good friend Martin recently acquired an allotment and has been evangelical in discussing newly discovered gardening techniques – Three Sisters seemed to be the most interesting. Three corn plants are planted in a triangular set, roughly a meter apart. Then, when they are ready, two runner bean plants are planted on either side of the corn, the idea being that the corn, as it grows, will become the stake for the beans. In the middle of the triangle a squash is planted, this will help to keep the weeds down as well as providing more edible crops. Perfect. 

However…the spring and early summer this year has been unusually wet. I, like many other gardeners, have stared out of the window at the boggy swamp that was once my vegetable patch watching the slugs and snails lay waste to everything I had lovingly reared from seedhood. Swarms of garden molluscs silently attacked and munched their way through my tiny patch of resistance to the power of the pesticide fuelled supermarket chains. Normally a tolerant person, I find myself fantasizing about retribution towards, essentially, a small invertebrate with one foot, and its million or so kin. 


The corn plants seem to be unappetising to these pests – or indeed any. As you can see from the pictures, they are thriving and have produced beautiful cobs of corn, almost ready to eat. I am amazed on two fronts – firstly, a plant that was originally grown in the heat of the Americas has done extraordinarily well in my tiny pocket of resistance. Secondly, the corn has a pleasing aesthetic quality I hadn’t anticipated. And as for the patty pan squashes – well, judge for yourself. I seem to have little lumps of sunshine nestling between the giant corn stakes. 

And what have I learned from this endeavour? 

•    Apply nematodes regularly to the garden. 
•    “Ne’er cast a clout till May is out” – put nothing in the ground until the threat of mollusc invasion and frost is over. 
•    Ancient wisdom is worth considering. 
•    Plant traditional runner or French beans for this strategy – dwarf bush variety will not work.

Most of all, remember my late friend Eddie’s words of wisdom. Eddie came to London from Barbados in the late 1950’s. From a culture where most people grew vegetables in their back yards, Eddie described his philosophy on growing vegetables thus: 

“Every year I grow one thing I have never grown before. It keeps me sharp. And I learn something. Not just about vegetables, but about life as well.”

Photo Credit: Jonny Hughes @jonny2love
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