How to grow the three sisters: conclusion

Beans corn

Perhaps I should have titled this blog entry ‘How to grow the two sisters’. My attempt to grow sweetcorn, beans and watermelon all together, Native American style, has come to a close.

The sweetcorn was superb and the snake beans (pictured) reasonably productive, but the watermelons just didn’t thrive. They produced some small fruit but had a few fungal issues and were never truly happy.

Maybe it was because I planted them when the sweetcorn was too tall and they were overshadowed and outperformed by it.

Maybe it’s because I planted them too late in the season. Locals say you should get melons in by September in these parts – the hills of north-eastern NSW – so that you’re harvesting by Christmas and avoiding fungal problems in the wet season. I didn’t sow until the end of January.

Maybe the soil just didn't have enough oomph in it to produce melons as well as a crop of corn (despite the nitrogen-fixing presence of beans, and side dressings of organic fertiliser).

Or maybe I chose the wrong cucurbit. Reduced light and airflow (such as in a bed shared with corn and beans) is a bad combination when you’re prone to fungal infections. Perhaps a fungal-resistant local pumpkin variety would have done a better job; stopping it taking over the garden is usually harder than growing it.

Of course, no experiment is a failure, as long as you learn something from it. And I shall console myself with the knowledge that I walk away from my three sisters trial with plenty of food for thought; if not quite as much food on my plate as I would have liked.

First published: May 2011

Related topics

Organic Gardening, Gardening Basics, Plants & Vegetables, Pests, Diseases & Weeds, Organic Techniques, Organic Food, Backyard, Three sisters, fungal disease, GROW, Vegetables