Monday, August 9, 2010

Okra get entwined as in the Legend of Three Sisters Garden.

okra get entwined

flowering okra 
with winged bean shoots going round.

I cant imagine okra will grow this tall judging by its look  last month.  Somehow, okra pushes up with zest, racing with the winged beans for vintage point of sunlight. At this height, okra will be vulnerable against strong gust of wind. Winged beans reach out and give lanky okra a helping hand....... and that brings us to the legend.

Iroquois legend of Three sisters garden
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 squirrels 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!
[source: guest author Alice Formiga Three Sisters Garden: Corn, Beans, Squash - A Native American]

bangchik and kakdah, Putrajaya Malaysia


  1. I have been trying the three sisters methods, but as the final caution says, sometimes the three sisters don't behave in ideally sisterly ways! Last year my corn was smothered by zucchinis, with no chance for pollination! This year I am going to try putting the corn to the side of the squash (or maybe only putting some more delicate cucurbits like cucumbers or melons in amongst the squash).

  2. Wah! Bangchik you have become so poetic and a story teller while toiling away in your garden! Interesting legend abt the three sisters you posted here..thanks for sharing

  3. Those okra flowers are so beautiful!

    I don't have enough room for corn, but if I did I'd definitely grow a Three Sisters garden.

    My mom and her husband share a plot of their land with a neighbor who grows a Three Sisters garden. They plant different kinds of corn. Last year they planted Indian maize and popcorn. Everything in their garden was very healthy and productive, and it was fun seeing a real, live Three Sisters garden.

  4. Wow, that's really interesting story of "the three sisters"!

    May be i can try beans and corn together as i just bought some corn seeds the other day!

  5. You know it's funny what you finally learn after years working in the garden industry. But I had not heard about the three sisters until a few years ago.

    Next garden, next year, I am doing this. I forgot all about it this year.

    You did a great job of describing how the legend came about.


  6. Thank you for sharing this legend with us, I am so embaressed to live in Canada and not know if it. It makes complete and utter sense to grow them this way, your pictures are a lovely complement.

  7. Nice story! It was a good read. Unfortunately I don't grow any of those lol, so I can't try that.

  8. A truly enlightening story, Bang Chik. It's amazing how nature works to bring the best to the land. I would love to share this story with my nieces and nephews! Here comes the 3 Sisters!! Not Harry Potter or Lord of the Ring.

  9. I love the idea of a three sisters' garden, which I'd never heard of before. Thank you for an interesting post, and I might just try it out next year. But not with zucchinis - too big.

  10. We do the 2 sister method, haha. Squash and corn together, it diffenately works the best. We haven't enough room in the raised beds for the beans too, but they are doing very well over in their beds :)

  11. Hahaha Bangchik, i did not read the story you posted but i love the way you put it as winged bean is supporting the okra. That's the way of the positive. I remember the "half-full vs half-empty" glass of water. Which side you choose means you are prone to either positive or negative. BTW there are okra varieties which have branches and longer lifespan. It is whitish in color not green. It withstand wind better.

  12. Thanks everyone for your visits and lovely comments. We thought modern gardeners had created the so-called companions gardening....... but the concept has been perfected thousand of years ago and now a legend.

    Three sisters garden is perfect, corns forming poles for beans to climb on and squash to act as ground cover... each helping the others with soil maintaining its moisture and nitrogen enhanced. Of course we need quite a bed for corns, beans and squash to run and be effective.

    I am sure it will look lovely, with repeating patterns running along the vegetable bed. The timing of planting each type of plants has to be very precise to keep the balance and spirit of the legend.

    Have a great day,
    ~bangchik and kakdah
    Putrajaya Malaysia


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