A mad, beautiful experiment – in photos.

This year, it was time to attempt an experiment I have always been interested in: Three Sisters planting. This involves planting corn, pole beans and squash together to allow for the symbiotic growth of all three.

“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 soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.” Renee’s Garden

Sounds great, right? And in the planting I envisioned lovely straight corn with a single bean vine growing up each and a tidy understory of squash plants…… which as you can see from the lead photo, is not at all what I got.

Not only that, but the scarlet runners attached themselves to the bordering raspberry canes and the squash vines also are attempting to use the trellis as a support. It’s all a bit of a mess, really – but a glorious, wild mess that I have grown quite fond of as it’s turned the back of my yard into a little jungle of competing food plants.

And look! It seems to actually be producing a few ears of corn!

And some nascent winter squash!

At this point I really don’t know if the box will turn out much in the way of edible, but I have some theories about how to make it work better next time: Plant the corn first, plant bean vines sparingly once corn is established — and start squash from plants rather than seeds so it has more time to mature in our short season.

In the meantime though……

I think it’s quite the most beautiful riot I’ve seen in my garden thus far.

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