Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.
 

The Native American Three Sisters

Expand Messages
  • Robert Monie
    Hi Anders,   The best introduction to Native American Companion Three Sisters planting that I know is that of ATTRA writer Mardi Dodson in her An Appendix
    Message 1 of 3 , Sep 30, 2008
      Hi Anders,
       
      The best introduction to Native American Companion "Three Sisters" planting that I know is that of ATTRA writer Mardi Dodson in her "An Appendix to Companion Planting:
      Basic Concepts and Resources--Ancient Companions," which is a trailer to a more general
      ATTRA treatment of companion planting. To read it google.com to
       
      An Appendix to Companion Planting- Mardi Dodson
       
      and scroll all the way down to the actual "Appendix" section. Dodson not only lists many of the native maize varieties actually grown, she also shows how the cultural practice varied among three different Native American communities: 1) The Wampanoag (famous for feeding starving  European visitors ); 2) the Hidatsa; and 3) the Zuni (waffle garden). Sunflowers figure in the mix as well as corn, beans and squash. (Kapuler would say there's the inulin factor again).
       
      Two good books one could add to the bibliography are Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden:
      Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians (ed. Gilbert Wilson) originally printed around 1917, and the more general and modernized Native Harvest: Authentic Southwest Gardening by Kevin Dahl.
       
      Reading these is taking a plunge into Americana.
       
      Bob Monie
      Closer to the Tunica Indiana in
      New Orleans, LA
      Zone 8
       

      --- On Tue, 9/30/08, Anders Skarlind <Anders.Skalman@...> wrote:

      From: Anders Skarlind <Anders.Skalman@...>
      Subject: Re: [fukuoka_farming] Re: New Polyculture, rotations, and weed control....
      To: fukuoka_farming@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2008, 2:47 AM






      Jeff et al

      In Sweden it was common until recently to grow peas and oats together
      (for grain harvest). Also barley and oats. Also combinations with
      vetch. Not so common nowadays. Monocultures are taking over. Similar
      combinations are also used as green fodder, for silage and hay.

      About the three sisters: what is the principle underlying useful
      combinations? Is it the usage of the plants? Your staple/oil
      seed/legume seem to indicate that line of thinking -but I am not
      sure. Perhaps this can give an indication, but I assume their
      interaction in the field, plus considerations for sowing and
      harvesting are more important.

      Perhaps "everyone available should" start seed saving, but what is
      also needed is more dedicated specialist work, may it be done by
      amateurs, farmers or professionals. I think of rather low-tech plant
      breeding and variety maintenance, plus small-scale seed production,
      plus developing necessary resources for this. E.g. I think we need
      cheap small scale threshers, both construction plans for
      do-it-yourself work, and manufacture of those. I think of machines
      suitable for harvesats from 10-1000 m2 plots approximately. I think
      they may be found in parts of the world, but in Sweden (perhaps
      Europe) the only kind I know of are research threshers that are by
      far too expensive. The smallest machine from a leading manufacturer
      (I think it was Wintersteiger in Austria) costed 9000 euros a few
      years ago. (There is one construction plan from Rodale that I hope to
      be able to borrow from a friend. I doubt Rodale is still selling it
      but I haven't checked.)

      Anders

      At 09:04 2008-09-30, you wrote:
      >So. after one day of searching...
      >the only other polyculture being investigated (besides wheat, canola
      >peas) is... flax/chickpeas. ..
      >for bi-di-cultures the planting regime seems to be 2/3 the recommended
      >amount.. and the legumes.g should use older cultivars...
      >the older ones are less efficient in nitrogen aquition.. therefor....
      >more nitrogen for the other (staple) crop... .. ie the old varieties
      >are more natural and fix more nitrogen.. .. ie the new varieities need
      >constant additions..
      >this seems to hold true for organic vs conventional. ..
      >washington state university is conduc.ting experiments crossing old
      >varieties with conventional (wheat) varieties.. citing loss of
      >characteristics significant for non-industrial imputs....
      >
      >but it seeems they are limited and not nearly enough... perhaps
      >everone available shoudl start seed saving?
      >hrm
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >Steve,.. could you provide details on your planting regime
      >for the three sisters.. aka what is your planting density etc/
      >
      >
      > > Jeff,
      > >
      > > Thanks for this. We've tried three sisters here, and are
      >experimenting with permanent cover crops. And I can attest to the
      >usefulness of asters. We reconstructed some tallgrass prairie as part
      >of our rehabilitation of the farm and they are moving across the farm.
      > Their root structure seems to do a good job on compaction. The goats
      >like them too for late season browse.
      > >
      > > Steve Smith
      > > Two Friends Farm
      > > 2934 250th St.
      > > Marshalltown, IA 50158
      > > twofreindsfarm@ ...
      > > 641-751-2851
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > ----- Original Message ----
      > > From: Jeff <shultonus@. ..>
      > > To: fukuoka_farming@ yahoogroups. com
      > > Sent: Monday, September 29, 2008 4:52:29 PM
      > > Subject: [fukuoka_farming] New Polyculture, rotations, and weed
      >control....
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > I recently finished a book,
      > > (The End of Food by Paul Roberts)- Against the Grain by Manning is
      > > much better.
      > >
      > > But I did manage to learn a thing or two (two to be exact, lol)
      > >
      > > One of the paragraphs mentioned a reasearcher at my alma mater, Iowa
      > > State. Matt Liebman
      > >
      > > Anyways, he's an endowed chair (meaning his research isn't funded by
      > > agribusiness) ...
      > >
      > > He has some interesting theories (he's got a book out),
      > > but anyway
      > >
      > > he's working on developming Low External Imput (LEI) agriculture, the
      > > ideas is to use minimum (although some is allowed) artificials. ..
      > >
      > > He found that
      > > Red Clover mulched while still green (still green is important)
      > > reeduced weeds for 3-4 weeks
      > > Sorguhm and rye (also mulched green) also had effects (though he warns
      > > rye tends to suck up too much nitrogen)
      > > this is called alleopathy
      > >
      > > anyways, this is one of three solutions he uses to decrease weed
      > > competition (I get the feeling that we would like to achieve no
      > > outside herbicide, and doesn't mind the occasional weed)
      > >
      > > the other two are crop rotation and incouraging weed predators..
      > > aka mice, beetles crickets and birds..
      > > apparently the right mice (deer mice and white footed) can consume the
      > > majorit of the weed seeds....
      > > they harvest 10 times the amount insects do.. the bird thing wasn't
      > > elaborated on...
      > >
      > > crop rotation.. being in Iowa.. Liebman modified a corn-soybean
      > > rotation...
      > > he tested adding tritacale or wheat,(with red clover winter cover)
      > > or two years alfalfa
      > >
      > > and indicated where you start your rotation when taking on a new
      > > management affects the long term consequences of weed seed bank...
      > >
      > > specifically, soybeans are the weakest link (hence the popularity of
      > > round-up ready soy)... and then just starting with corn, vs soy can
      > > reduce long term weeks by 20%+
      > >
      > > Anyways, I thought this might be something people on this board might
      > > appreciate.
      > >
      > > Well non related to the book,
      > > I stumbled across something I consider even more dramatic...
      > >
      > > its a cold-climate adaption of the three sister's concept...
      > > http://www.umanitob a.ca/afs/ fiw/030703. html
      > > it uses wheat, canola (rape), and field peas
      > >
      > > a staple, oil seed, and legume..
      > > Which seems to compare favorable to a two species system like the
      > > Bonfil's method for wheat...
      > >
      > > I'm going to try and track down a scientific article on this for more
      > > details...
      > >
      > > but if this concept holds true it would open the door to all kinds of
      > > possibilities. ..
      > >
      > > The low growing oilseeds
      > > mustards, rape (canola), crambe, sesbania, radish, flax(?), seasame
      >(?)...
      > > not sure about the last two, they might be too close to staple growth
      > > forms, also a consideration would be sunflower, but that might be
      >too big
      > >
      > > other staples..... sorhgum (with sunflower!!) , millet, buckwheat (with
      > > flax/seasame) , ....amaranth (with flax/sesame) Quinoa (with
      > > flax/seasame) , Potatoes (with sunflowers?)
      > >
      > > other legumes ... cowpeas, red clover, field peas, (SOYBEANS?), edible
      > > beans, lablab, faba, winged bean, adzuki bean, crimson clover, peanuts
      > > (groundnut), ....
      > >
      > > what about a vegetable version
      > > brocoli (oil seed?), string beans (legume), and staked (indeterminate)
      > > tomatoes
      > >
      > > dry-land rice, brocoli, soybeans
      > >
      > > what about cucumber sunflower and soy or string beans, or yard long
      > >
      > > (getting away from the oil-staple-legume)
      > > the legume seems necessary.. but I think the other two are changable
      > > based on growth form....
      > >
      > > the staple (or substitue) would be tall and later, or any and early
      > > the oilseed (or substute) would by short and early, or shade
      >tolorant late
      > >
      > > the problem is they haven't figured out how to mechanize this
      > > harvesting.. ..
      > >
      > > btw.. anyone have experience with three sisters...
      > > how far apart do you plant...
      > > I'm never seen a working model...
      > >















      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Anders Skarlind
      Hi Bob Thanks for this interesting link. I already had an orientation on the three sisters, but this contained new details. BTW the url is
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 2, 2008
        Hi Bob
        Thanks for this interesting link. I already had an orientation on the
        three sisters, but this contained new details.
        BTW the url is http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/complant.html

        My point, which you and Jeff may have missed, was that I doubt that
        the underlying principle of the three sisters companionship is that
        "a staple, oil seed, and legume" are included, as Jeff and the
        Manitoba researchers consider. This possible principle is not
        included under "The Scientific Foundations for Companion Planting",
        and it doesn't convince me, as it doesn't seem to take notice of how
        things work in the field.

        As Mardi Dodson puts it:
        "Corn, beans, and squash have a unique symbiotic relationship in a
        Native American garden. Corn offers a structure for the beans to
        climb. The beans, in turn, help to replenish the soil with nutrients.
        And the large leaves of squash and pumpkin vines provide living mulch
        that conserves water and provides weed control."

        I am not sure it is a good idea to try to imitate this companionship
        under other conditions, e.g. a colder climate, but it could be worth
        a try. However the best combinations there could be based on other principles.

        I would go for (a tall large-leaved variety of) a small grain to take
        the place of corn. This could also give some weed suppression via
        leaves and allelopathy, i e it could also in parts perform the role
        of squash. Then peas could climb on the grain, giving nitrogen. A
        third plant providing ground cover and suppression of small emerging
        weeds could be a good option. However the Manitoba approach lacks the
        three sister's geometry. What about growing rutabagas or turnips
        between groups of a small grain plus peas? Not as readily adapted to
        large-scale mechanisation, but possible for small-scale growers perhaps.

        As for protein supply, I recently realised that spinach by dry weight
        has at least as high protein content as soybeans, and larger than
        other beans and peas (which also are hard to digest). I will check
        into other leafy plants later, given time.

        Anders


        At 21:48 2008-09-30, you wrote:


        >Hi Anders,
        >
        >The best introduction to Native American Companion "Three Sisters"
        >planting that I know is that of ATTRA writer Mardi Dodson in her "An
        >Appendix to Companion Planting:
        >Basic Concepts and Resources--Ancient Companions," which is a
        >trailer to a more general
        >ATTRA treatment of companion planting. To read it google.com to
        >
        >An Appendix to Companion Planting- Mardi Dodson
        >
        >and scroll all the way down to the actual "Appendix" section. Dodson
        >not only lists many of the native maize varieties actually grown,
        >she also shows how the cultural practice varied among three
        >different Native American communities: 1) The Wampanoag (famous for
        >feeding starving European visitors ); 2) the Hidatsa; and 3) the
        >Zuni (waffle garden). Sunflowers figure in the mix as well as corn,
        >beans and squash. (Kapuler would say there's the inulin factor again).
        >
        >Two good books one could add to the bibliography are Buffalo Bird
        >Woman's Garden:
        >Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians (ed. Gilbert Wilson) originally
        >printed around 1917, and the more general and modernized Native
        >Harvest: Authentic Southwest Gardening by Kevin Dahl.
        >
        >Reading these is taking a plunge into Americana.
        >
        >Bob Monie
        >Closer to the Tunica Indiana in
        >New Orleans, LA
        >Zone 8
        >
        >
        >--- On Tue, 9/30/08, Anders Skarlind <Anders.Skalman@...> wrote:
        >
        >From: Anders Skarlind <Anders.Skalman@...>
        >Subject: Re: [fukuoka_farming] Re: New Polyculture, rotations, and
        >weed control....
        >To: fukuoka_farming@yahoogroups.com
        >Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2008, 2:47 AM
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >Jeff et al
        >
        >In Sweden it was common until recently to grow peas and oats together
        >(for grain harvest). Also barley and oats. Also combinations with
        >vetch. Not so common nowadays. Monocultures are taking over. Similar
        >combinations are also used as green fodder, for silage and hay.
        >
        >About the three sisters: what is the principle underlying useful
        >combinations? Is it the usage of the plants? Your staple/oil
        >seed/legume seem to indicate that line of thinking -but I am not
        >sure. Perhaps this can give an indication, but I assume their
        >interaction in the field, plus considerations for sowing and
        >harvesting are more important.
        >
        >Perhaps "everyone available should" start seed saving, but what is
        >also needed is more dedicated specialist work, may it be done by
        >amateurs, farmers or professionals. I think of rather low-tech plant
        >breeding and variety maintenance, plus small-scale seed production,
        >plus developing necessary resources for this. E.g. I think we need
        >cheap small scale threshers, both construction plans for
        >do-it-yourself work, and manufacture of those. I think of machines
        >suitable for harvesats from 10-1000 m2 plots approximately. I think
        >they may be found in parts of the world, but in Sweden (perhaps
        >Europe) the only kind I know of are research threshers that are by
        >far too expensive. The smallest machine from a leading manufacturer
        >(I think it was Wintersteiger in Austria) costed 9000 euros a few
        >years ago. (There is one construction plan from Rodale that I hope to
        >be able to borrow from a friend. I doubt Rodale is still selling it
        >but I haven't checked.)
        >
        >Anders
        >
        >At 09:04 2008-09-30, you wrote:
        > >So. after one day of searching...
        > >the only other polyculture being investigated (besides wheat, canola
        > >peas) is... flax/chickpeas. ..
        > >for bi-di-cultures the planting regime seems to be 2/3 the recommended
        > >amount.. and the legumes.g should use older cultivars...
        > >the older ones are less efficient in nitrogen aquition.. therefor....
        > >more nitrogen for the other (staple) crop... .. ie the old varieties
        > >are more natural and fix more nitrogen.. .. ie the new varieities need
        > >constant additions..
        > >this seems to hold true for organic vs conventional. ..
        > >washington state university is conduc.ting experiments crossing old
        > >varieties with conventional (wheat) varieties.. citing loss of
        > >characteristics significant for non-industrial imputs....
        > >
        > >but it seeems they are limited and not nearly enough... perhaps
        > >everone available shoudl start seed saving?
        > >hrm
        > >
        > >
        > >
        > >
        > >Steve,.. could you provide details on your planting regime
        > >for the three sisters.. aka what is your planting density etc/
        > >
        > >
        > > > Jeff,
        > > >
        > > > Thanks for this. We've tried three sisters here, and are
        > >experimenting with permanent cover crops. And I can attest to the
        > >usefulness of asters. We reconstructed some tallgrass prairie as part
        > >of our rehabilitation of the farm and they are moving across the farm.
        > > Their root structure seems to do a good job on compaction. The goats
        > >like them too for late season browse.
        > > >
        > > > Steve Smith
        > > > Two Friends Farm
        > > > 2934 250th St.
        > > > Marshalltown, IA 50158
        > > > twofreindsfarm@ ...
        > > > 641-751-2851
        > > >
        > > >
        > > >
        > > > ----- Original Message ----
        > > > From: Jeff <shultonus@. ..>
        > > > To: fukuoka_farming@ yahoogroups. com
        > > > Sent: Monday, September 29, 2008 4:52:29 PM
        > > > Subject: [fukuoka_farming] New Polyculture, rotations, and weed
        > >control....
        > > >
        > > >
        > > >
        > > > I recently finished a book,
        > > > (The End of Food by Paul Roberts)- Against the Grain by Manning is
        > > > much better.
        > > >
        > > > But I did manage to learn a thing or two (two to be exact, lol)
        > > >
        > > > One of the paragraphs mentioned a reasearcher at my alma mater, Iowa
        > > > State. Matt Liebman
        > > >
        > > > Anyways, he's an endowed chair (meaning his research isn't funded by
        > > > agribusiness) ...
        > > >
        > > > He has some interesting theories (he's got a book out),
        > > > but anyway
        > > >
        > > > he's working on developming Low External Imput (LEI) agriculture, the
        > > > ideas is to use minimum (although some is allowed) artificials. ..
        > > >
        > > > He found that
        > > > Red Clover mulched while still green (still green is important)
        > > > reeduced weeds for 3-4 weeks
        > > > Sorguhm and rye (also mulched green) also had effects (though he warns
        > > > rye tends to suck up too much nitrogen)
        > > > this is called alleopathy
        > > >
        > > > anyways, this is one of three solutions he uses to decrease weed
        > > > competition (I get the feeling that we would like to achieve no
        > > > outside herbicide, and doesn't mind the occasional weed)
        > > >
        > > > the other two are crop rotation and incouraging weed predators..
        > > > aka mice, beetles crickets and birds..
        > > > apparently the right mice (deer mice and white footed) can consume the
        > > > majorit of the weed seeds....
        > > > they harvest 10 times the amount insects do.. the bird thing wasn't
        > > > elaborated on...
        > > >
        > > > crop rotation.. being in Iowa.. Liebman modified a corn-soybean
        > > > rotation...
        > > > he tested adding tritacale or wheat,(with red clover winter cover)
        > > > or two years alfalfa
        > > >
        > > > and indicated where you start your rotation when taking on a new
        > > > management affects the long term consequences of weed seed bank...
        > > >
        > > > specifically, soybeans are the weakest link (hence the popularity of
        > > > round-up ready soy)... and then just starting with corn, vs soy can
        > > > reduce long term weeks by 20%+
        > > >
        > > > Anyways, I thought this might be something people on this board might
        > > > appreciate.
        > > >
        > > > Well non related to the book,
        > > > I stumbled across something I consider even more dramatic...
        > > >
        > > > its a cold-climate adaption of the three sister's concept...
        > > > http://www.umanitob a.ca/afs/ fiw/030703. html
        > > > it uses wheat, canola (rape), and field peas
        > > >
        > > > a staple, oil seed, and legume..
        > > > Which seems to compare favorable to a two species system like the
        > > > Bonfil's method for wheat...
        > > >
        > > > I'm going to try and track down a scientific article on this for more
        > > > details...
        > > >
        > > > but if this concept holds true it would open the door to all kinds of
        > > > possibilities. ..
        > > >
        > > > The low growing oilseeds
        > > > mustards, rape (canola), crambe, sesbania, radish, flax(?), seasame
        > >(?)...
        > > > not sure about the last two, they might be too close to staple growth
        > > > forms, also a consideration would be sunflower, but that might be
        > >too big
        > > >
        > > > other staples..... sorhgum (with sunflower!!) , millet, buckwheat (with
        > > > flax/seasame) , ....amaranth (with flax/sesame) Quinoa (with
        > > > flax/seasame) , Potatoes (with sunflowers?)
        > > >
        > > > other legumes ... cowpeas, red clover, field peas, (SOYBEANS?), edible
        > > > beans, lablab, faba, winged bean, adzuki bean, crimson clover, peanuts
        > > > (groundnut), ....
        > > >
        > > > what about a vegetable version
        > > > brocoli (oil seed?), string beans (legume), and staked (indeterminate)
        > > > tomatoes
        > > >
        > > > dry-land rice, brocoli, soybeans
        > > >
        > > > what about cucumber sunflower and soy or string beans, or yard long
        > > >
        > > > (getting away from the oil-staple-legume)
        > > > the legume seems necessary.. but I think the other two are changable
        > > > based on growth form....
        > > >
        > > > the staple (or substitue) would be tall and later, or any and early
        > > > the oilseed (or substute) would by short and early, or shade
        > >tolorant late
        > > >
        > > > the problem is they haven't figured out how to mechanize this
        > > > harvesting.. ..
        > > >
        > > > btw.. anyone have experience with three sisters...
        > > > how far apart do you plant...
        > > > I'm never seen a working model...
        > > >
        >
        >
      • Jeff
        ... things work in the field. ... Anders- While I generally agree with your assessment- that the success of the three sisters is more than likely a result of
        Message 3 of 3 , Oct 2, 2008
          > My point, which you and Jeff may have missed, was that I doubt that
          > the underlying principle of the three sisters companionship is that
          > "a staple, oil seed, and legume" are included, as Jeff and the
          > Manitoba researchers consider. This possible principle is not
          > included under "The Scientific Foundations for Companion Planting",
          > and it doesn't convince me, as it doesn't seem to take notice of how
          things work in the field.
          >

          Anders-
          While I generally agree with your assessment- that the success of the
          three sisters is more than likely a result of the particular 'field
          geometry'... (I'll concede that this is the major influence in yeilds)

          However, I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject of
          polycrops and polycultures for northern climates in the last week...
          and I have been summarizing what i consider the most succuessful of
          the trials and tribulations I've read...

          For example....
          in mexico and the arid southwest United states..
          the three sisters combination yields LER (Land efficiency ration)
          of 1.5 to 2.5
          where as the manitoba example listed is in the range of 1.2-1.4
          and typical polycrops (small strips instead of arranged) are on teh
          order of 1.1
          (LER= poly yield plant one/mono yield plant 1 + p yield p2/py2 etc)

          one really interesting note is that in the mexican (the best data set)
          examples, the corn yeilds are almost doubled, and the bean and squash
          yields are way down, (LER= 1.1-2.1 (corn) + .2 beans + .2 squash)
          so most of the LER advantage is the firtilization (and possibly
          moisture) effects of having a legume in the mix and no bare soil on
          the corn.. the beans and squash in this instance is considered a freebie..

          whereas in the other (northern) examples...
          each crop is reduced by 10-60%...
          but in a three crop rotation.... .4 + .4 + .4= 1.2 LER
          the biggest savings however according to an organic farmer in
          saskachwan....
          was the $20/ACRE savings in reduced fertilizer costs (manure and or
          compost), in addition to higher quality legume crop (field peas)

          apparently while the peas don't necessarily 'climb' the wheat and
          canola (rape), the sourounding crops do support it enough that the
          seed is cleaner and gets a higher premium price...
          apparently soil (dirt) is a common contaminent in field peas that
          reduces the selling price....

          I suspect the aim of the researchers (and indeed the organic farmer)
          was to look at the orginal three sisters as providing complete
          nutrition balance in terms of vegie oils, carbohydrates and complete
          amino acid protein profile.

          and providing this in one field....
          thus when the organic farmer feeds his (limited) hogs, he doesn't mix
          a bunch of different stuff (including synthetic aminos in conventional
          production) he feeds them what comes off the field...

          although he did say that storage time (shelf life)is dramatically
          reduced unless you process them an extra step to separate them...

          he found that generally it takes an LER of greater than 1.11 to break
          even with the extra labor...

          but I did allude to geometry as a factor when I mentioned some of the
          various oil crops like flax, seasame and sunflowers...

          and in a final note..... the link Bob gave is .. each of the three
          tribes evaluated included sunflowers on the north side as well...
          so perhpas its three sisters and a cousin??
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.