Trying out three sisters in the polytunnel

Raised beds in polytunnel with corn, beans and squash

This is a view of part of the raised beds in the polytunnel. It’s really encouraging to see the plants growing away so strongly and looking so healthy.

This is an example of the growing system known as the ‘Three Sisters’, which is a method of agriculture used for millennia by various Native American tribes. The Iriquois people showed the nearly-starving European new settlers and helped them to survive their new lives in a new world.

The name refers to the use of three types of food plants: maize, pumpkins and squashes, and beans. The were really useful crops because, as well as being used fresh, all three can be dried and stored for winter use.

The idea is beautifully simple, the maize provided a pole for the beans to climb up, meanwhile the beans roots contained bacteria which can ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air. Finally, the Cucurbits (pumpkins etc) are planted underneath where they spread and sprawl over the ground protecting the crop from pests with their spiny stems and also shade the soil which helps to retain moisture.

The roots of the different plants are known to exploit different soil zones so that they do not compete but rather complement each other. Our take on the method uses tall canes for the beans as modern climbing beans would be too vigorous for the more dwarf modern sweet corn varieties.

In order to maximise the space in the raised beds, we have also planted various sweet pepper and chilli varieties and Physallis which is a small yellow berry often used as a decorative addition to restaurant dishes.

Watch this space for future blogs to monitor the planting progress.

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