Plant clever companions
When it comes to ultimate companions in the garden, take note of the North American Indian tradition and plant your vege patch with the three sisters. This combination of corn, beans and squash works well and has been in existence for hundreds of years. The corn (sunflowers were planted as well) provides a structure for the beans to grow up, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, improving its overall fertility, and shallowrooted squash becomes a living mulch, shading the soil, reducing weeds and conserving soil moisture. The plants themselves grow well together, and show clear evidence of companion planting at its best. To plant your own patch of three sisters, choose a site that gets all-day sun and dig in compost. A slow release fertiliser may be beneficial too. Create several mounds about 30 centimetres high and 50cm across, giving your mound a level top. The centre of each mound should be about 150cm apart. For good corn pollination you should be looking at a patch about 3 metres by 3m. A smaller patch may result in uneven pollination. In the centre of each mound, plant six to seven corn kernels in a small circle. You won’t end up with this many, but it’s best to plant more than you need. When the corn seedlings reach 10cm high, apply a balanced fertiliser. When they reach 15cm to 20cm, sow six to seven climbing beans, also in a circle, 15cm away from the corn plants. Wait another week, then sow your squash or pumpkin seeds on the edge of the circle, about 30cm away from the beans. When the corn plants are about 20cm high, thin them out to four plants. Leave the healthiest looking plants behind. Do the same for your beans and squash when they’re a reasonable size, thinning beans to four plants and squash to two plants each mound. Do the same for the other mounds, sowing seeds at the distances mentioned above, and thinning seedlings as you go. Most sweetcorn varieties are ready for picking 90 to 100 days after planting, although maturity often differs from year to year, depending on the temperatures. In cooler areas, where the season is shorter, it’s best to choose early maturing varieties. Any climbing bean or squash variety may be grown. You can experiment with varieties of beans or squash on each mound, but stick to the one corn variety or the varieties will cross-pollinate. Water and feed plants regularly. At such close quarters, plants will be competing for nutrients. Weed around the three sisters until the squash leaves cover the soil. Your plants will grow, and a bumper harvest should result.
Beneficial: Beans fix nitrogen in the soil, improving its overall fertility.
Healthy option: When corn plants are high enough, thin them out to four plants. Leave the healthiest looking plants behind.