Today’s post is written in honor of the earliest Americans, whose agricultural techniques allowed them to survive and thrive in the harshest of natural environments. (Didn’t allow them, however, to survive when European settlers arrived and began disrespecting and destroying their continent like greedy and rapacious madmen, BUT, that’s a rant for another day….)
Permaculture gardening relies heavily on plant guilds, which are natural plant or ecological communities grow well together because each member of the guild supports and benefits the others. North America’s native peoples understood the agricultural concept of plant guilds and used it to successfully grow many types of fruits and vegetables, including the legendary Three Sisters guild of corn, squash, and beans.
A Three Sisters garden is usually a mound of soil with corn planted at the center. Beans ring the corn, and squash is planted at the edges. The corn stalks create a natural trellis for the beans to climb, while the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, which nourishes the corn. The leaves of the squash vines ramble around the mound, preventing the spread of weeds and providing shade for the shallow roots of the corn. The symbiotic interaction of the three plants allow them to produce more food using less water and fertilizer.
Plant guilds such as the Three Sisters are the cornerstone of plant ecosystems as well as sustainable gardens. Learn more about how to create a Three Sisters garden here and here. I haven’t used these techniques myself because I’m not gardening food right now in my all-shade yard. However, you can read about the The Food Gardener’s first-hand Three Sisters growing experience here.
Corn photo courtesy of Texas A&M University. Beans and squash photos courtesy of Wikipedia.