I am reading a second book by Robin Wall Kimmerer titled “Braiding Sweetgrass”.
The first book I read of hers was “The Gathering Moss” and thoroughly enjoyed it.
A few pages into “Braiding Sweetgrass” Robin dedicates a chapter to what she calls the “epiphany of beans” and then moves onto a chapter called “The Three Sisters”. The chapter talks about compatible planting of, in this case, vegetables that are complementary to each other. Specifically, corn, beans and squash are the ones she mentions. Nature has an amazing ability for reciprocity and finding balance with sustainable relationships. The partnership here starts with the corn. They grow tall and thin with shallow root systems. The beanstalks wrap around the corn for support and take advantage of spreading upward with the cornstalks. The corn seem to accept the hitchhikers and separate their leaves to make room for the bean vines. The Indigenous theory on the “Three Sisters” states that when planted together these plants can feed the people, feed the land and feed our imaginations by telling us how we can live together.
She goes on to talk about the theory that starts with the planting of the corn which shoots up vertically as fast as it can soaking up water and producing sugars. The bean comes next but takes a different root by firmly planting itself with deep roots before it seeks to go upward. The squash comes later and is last to germinate.The birth order is critical to the successful relationship of the trio. I recommend the read as it’s utterly fascinating to learn about this type of gardening techniques. The method is as old as time and yet not commonly practiced or known.
Further she talks about the intimate relationship between the sisters and how they embrace and support each other in order for the greater good. Without the support of the corn, the bean would be unruly on the ground and at risk by predators. The squash provides shade and reduction of weeds while enjoying the corn provides spots of sunshine strategically placed back on the squash. The corn roots are fine and fibrous and make a shallow network where they drink their fill of water. They provide a channel for the excess water to flow downward to the roots of the beans. The squash taps into the excess and there seems to be enough for them all to thrive better together than apart.
Plants are amazing. Beans grow oxygen-free nodules to house bacterium that shares nitrogen with the plant. This nitrogen enters the soil and helps to fuel added growth to the corn and squash. It has been proven that these plants do better together than grown separately. I am sure there are more examples of these combination growth methods to explore.
I find myself wondering about this phonenom. I come from a family of six girls and one boy. There are three girls, a boy and then three more girls. I am second to the last in the grouping. We seemed to rotate our friendships as we grew. I would hang out with my sister who was two years older than me the most. If I was to label us as plants I wouldn’t say we fit neatly into the “Three Sisters”. What I noticed is that as we get older the message from the sisters rings true.