What started as an urge to try growing corn (again) became an obsession when I learned of the Haudenosaunee tradition of the “Three Sisters” crops.  In this centuries-old system, the three sisters (corn, beans, and squash) are planted in concentric circles successionally.  The big sister, corn, is planted first and provides support for the second sister, beans, to climb. The bean sister hugs the corn and helps to keep her upright against strong winds.  Beans also provide nitrogen in the soil to help her sisters grow.  The baby sister, squash, is planted last.  Her wide leaves shade the ground and help choke out weeds so her big sisters have enough to eat and drink.   The plant sisters are kind to people too, in that they provide a complete and balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.  Other sisters can live in harmony with this mix – sunflowers, melons, amaranth. It’s a beautiful thing.

In past years my failed attempts at growing corn resulted in sad plants that dried up and blew away. This year I was determined things would be different. I did research, I took notes, I drew up plans and I made appeals. Then I drew more pictures and decorated them with washi tape, like so:

Three Sisters Garden Plans

I remember asking nicely.  I might have begged.  For sure I pleaded.  I even attempted bartering. All to no avail. Finally, I  commanded: Earth be tilled!

And so it was.

With 12 x 12 feet of tilled earth at the ready, I could map out the physical space and layout the mounds.  Armed with chopsticks, plastic spoons, and a measuring tape (of the sewing sort) I set to work! Maybe these are not the traditional tools of the trade, but this is what I had on hand to make things happen.

I wound up planting corn, sunflowers, zucchini, crooked neck and straight neck squash, acorn squash, loofa gourds, pumpkin, a watermelon, beans, and peas.  Two interloping tomato plants joined the party of their own accord, apparently from seeds tossed out in the compost.  My three sisters garden turned into an extended family.  Or maybe a commune? I don’t know what to call it anymore, but let me tell you, there’s a lot happening out there. Well here, I’ll just show you:

sister garden

The day I stood in the garden and unwrapped the husk from the first ear of corn, I cried. Actual tears. It was quite suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelming. There was the quiet murmur of tassels, leaves, silks and stalks rustling in the breeze. There was the soft hum of the bees on the sunflower heads above me – all our faces raised to the sky. There was a caress of leaves.  There was a knowing of the circles and cycles, extending away in ever-widening ripples. There was row after golden row of kernels linking one generation to the next. There was something wild and free and profoundly life-force-y let loose in the garden. 

corn

And then, as suddenly and unexpectedly, there was just me again, standing there mundanely amid the corn sniffling and wondering what sort of problem I was having now.

So, I went inside and googled it.  Yes, I did.  That’s when I learned of Hun Hunahpu.  Life is weird.

Harvest

The corn, zucchini, and sunflowers in the picture above were picked this week from the sisters garden. The butternut squash and cucumbers are from the raised beds garden, but that’s a different tale for another day.