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A classic permaculture companion planting combo is corns, beans and melons

How to grow the three sisters: corn, beans and melon

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Corn, beans and melons are classic permaculture best friends, SIMON WEBSTER hopes.

American Indians knew all about companion planting and squeezing plants close together long before permaculture came along. They came up with some cracking combinations.


A classic is the three sisters: corn, beans and a cucurbit, such as melon or pumpkin. The corn provides a trellis for the beans to grow up; the beans stabilise the corn stalks and take nitrogen from the air, putting it in the soil, feeding the corn; and the cucurbit vine deters pests and spreads across the soil, providing a living mulch.


The result: one space, three crops.  Sounds too good to be true, so I’m going to find out if it really works.


Corn likes plenty of food, so in my raised bed I’ve filled two trenches with alpaca poo, compost, straw and comfrey leaves (not a very scientific combination, but it was what I had to hand).


I’m following the pattern shown in a diagram shown here, except with a smaller bed, so I’ve got only two rows rather than three (hope I’m going to have enough corn for good germination).


The corn – ‘Early Chief’ has been sown. I’ve sown eight in each of five mounds, which I will thin to four plants per mound.


When I come back from my two-week Christmas break I’m hoping it will be up and thriving and it will be time to plant the beans around it and the melon in the other mounds. You have to get the corn going first or the other plants will swamp it.


It will be a bit late for planting melon around these parts (subtropical northern NSW), where the experts say you should plant in September and harvest by Christmas to avoid fungal disease from all the summer humidity, but, hey, rules are meant to be broken, I reckon. 


As you can see from the pic, there are no sisters yet, but watch this space. Eagle-eyed readers will see that I’ve added a trellis at the back to give the melons somewhere to go when they run out of space. Wish me luck.