Early garden

Small home plot.

There’s much to be enjoyed about the garden that grows your own vegetables, and your flowers.   Having a bit of space that you can cultivate gives many forms of rich reward in return for an effort that can be spaced over time.   I have lived for some time in a warm climate, so usually am doing something outdoors on warm days going all the way back into winter.   Now, almost to March, it’s always good to have your garden plot spaded and ready, turning the soil over spare minutes on days that it can be done a bit at a time.

Recently I’ve been reading about the native tribal methods of planting that spread the garden over existing features, instead of putting in straight rows.   The erosion control it gives, as well as a spread of different plant features patterned among each other, makes a shared benefit among all the elements that works with the land you are cultivating.   

We’ve recently become familiar with making mounds to grow melons, and the mutual supportive features of planting different vegetables with each other.

One of the most often used Native American gardening techniques was the Three Sisters. This method used three different seeds planted together in one large mound of dirt. The seeds were corn, squash and beans. Each of these seeds would provide something that the other seeds would need as they grew. The beans would provide nitrogen to the soil, which the corn and squash would need to grow strong. The corn provided a trellis on which the beans would grow. The squash provided cover for the other two plants as they were growing and helped to deter some pests. Some Native Americans would also put a fish or eel in the hole first, and then place the seeds on top before covering with soil. This provided added fertilizer to the soil.

It is interesting to note that the growing of the Three Sisters varies in the east and west. In the west, the bean varieties cultivated were often self-supporting, so they did not have to be planted in the same hole as the corn and squash.

Four Sisters

Some of the southwest tribes also planted a “fourth sister” in addition to corn, beans and squash. They also planted the Rocky Mountain bee plant, which helped to attract bees to pollinate their gardens.

The gardens native tribes planted along the land’s features takes advantage of patterns of topography and drainage, rather than impose a standard row pattern onto existing depths – and avoids losing soil to that imposed planting.   The raising of beds of plants rather than rows uses the plants’ features as well as topography to your best advantage.   Raised beds are increasingly used, also, and lend themselves to the gardener’s easy access.

Companion plants lend themselves to each other’s health, and herbs or flowers often are spread among the more common vegetables to attract pests or give benefits to the surrounding growth.

  • Marigolds are as good as gold when grown with just about any garden plant, repelling beetles, nematodes, and even animal pests.
  • Some companions act as trap plants, luring insects to themselves. Nasturtiums, for example, are so favored by aphids that the devastating insects will flock to them instead of other plants.
  • Carrots, dill, parsley, and parsnip attract garden heroes — praying mantises, ladybugs, and spiders — that dine on insect pests.
  • Much of companion planting is common sense: Lettuce, radishes, and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or winter squash will mature and be harvested long before these vines need more leg room.

Ordering seed is probably beginning in your planting aspersions for the coming spring, and there are always new and intriguing ones calling for attention.   Maybe this year I will even finallly get my black tomato or my romanesco into a corner of a garden.

(Photo courtesy of PhilCalvert at flickr.com.)

Raised bed 3 sisters planting

Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.