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3 Sisters : intercropping, Kitchen Garden style.

No matter what I do I cannot play rain god and the soil --such as it is -- dries the more.
The comestibles live -- indeed in demographic abundance -- but they do not live well as the wee things suffer from the absence of precipitation. Even the dew has got surly and comes in each morning parched.
But such weather as this seems to suit the squash family. Less mould. Not damp. Just right to throw out the buds and shoot out a succulent stem or ball.
After years been held hostage to Black Jack Zucchini I've expanded my engagement with Cucurbita as I begin to notch up more successes growing selections from this wonderful and very large family.
I know the supposed DIY drill of course and while it may not work every time, my most recent embrace of squashology has reminded me of the 3 Sisters Tradition of intercropping.

This image of a 3 Sisters example suggests how intense can be the plant-out mix of corn and squashes.

How jungle like is the mix -- there's nothing neat about it. Path/ What path? Each plant for itself.

I say that as I'm in the process of giving myself to the rambling desires of the Cucurbita. My corn is hardly there -- well, not at all as it hasn't thrived thus far.But I'm planting and mixing and when I reference the 3 sisters I come away with a 4:4:1-- 4 corn seeds to 4 bean seeds to one of squash-- all in the same spot -- traditionally a mound.

Of course the '3 Sisters' has become somewhat fetishised but the logic is so darn good as the teaming is the best example of companion planting:

This year in deference to companionship I planted out heaps of potatoes and mixed them in with later sewings of squashes, coriander, parsley, salad greens(like endive),various 'spinaches',  tomatoes and beans.

It seems to work. I thought, 'what the hell: I'll go for it! Let the veg work it out among themselves.' And what they came up with was a bit scary because I got marginalised. All I had to do was squirt some water regularly at my clay pots -- my 'ollas' in Indian speak --  and sit back. Indeed the more long and short and broad my mix, the better the plants have done.

I also had to seriously collect and sew seeds so that I could have plants to insert in any of the spaces available. Plants that would take their time before they crowded out their already established neighbours. It's proving to be quite a squeeze.

I'm losing my paths of course  --as everything falls and rambles where it may. Since I haven't got the corn I've rammed sticks in places that may need beans to climb. I've given up on bean pole and teepee niceties. My approach is improvised trellis on demand using sticks cut from my last trimming of mulberry and malaleuca trees.

After spending so much time obsessing over what goes on underneath the earth in way of root crowding, I'm amazed how much can grow in one spot above the earth. Indeed my garden is much more complex than it has ever been and seemingly has more of a mind of its own than ever before.

Harvesting is really foraging.  Tucker requires you to know where to look for a feed.Because my garden is shaded in part each day and the plants throw their own shadows differently at different places no species comes to harvest at the same time.

That means no glut. No one-off harvesting.  The supply line is semi consistent...at least hopeful.

Mind you I cannot send anyone else into the garden to harvest something as they won't find what they are looking for.

Plants may not ripen as quickly as I'd like but as a KITCHEN GARDEN the engineering works. I'm sure I pay a productivity price and I don't get to fret over prized vegetables ruled by best-in-show dreams...but the garden feeds the house.

Consider this: growing potatoes in the same space as these other plants.

Not in the rule book. I'm sure there is a price to pay.

But come dinner time, I'm not complaining.

I guess the key aspect that is driving this mix is that I've freed myself from the sewing tyranny. I make sure I always have a good selection of seeds to choose from and  since I started making my own seed raising mix I'm more confident about raising my own seedlings.I may miss the joys of shopping for seedlings at the Sunday markets -- but I'm more in control over the volume and the range I chose to plant.

My costs have gone way down. My water budget keeps improving. My dinner plate has a wider range of food on it.

POSTSCRIPT: Today I finally measured my watering time: it took me 30 minutes at one end of the hose to top up all my clay pots in succession. Every second day -- except when the rain is fullsome. That's 30 minutes watering with low pressure town water (we have water tower in town). The circuit is quicker when hosing from my tanks as the pump delivers more volume per minute.

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Comment by Dave Riley on August 31, 2017 at 18:51

Short term climber?

Cucuzza  or Trombonchino squash.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on August 31, 2017 at 15:32

Beans in the summer, Peas in the winter?

Comment by Christa on August 31, 2017 at 12:26

I see your idea of 3 sisters, each benefiting the other. My aim is to make my whole garden one big happy family, I suppose.   

I am intending to place a semi-circle of Vetiver grass around the lower edge of my banana patch, and wondering if there is a short term climber to use with the banana trees. 

Comment by Dave Riley on August 31, 2017 at 9:06

That's my big Vetiver grass experiment: moisture transfer. As well as supplying mulch the hypothesis -- proven by some research -- is that Vetiver ,with its straight down deep root system, acts as a moisture pump as well as sponsoring some very useful microbial ecology.

Last night, mulling over this I realized I do have a lot of trees:

7 malaleucas,a stand of sheoaks, around 20 frangipanis, 4 mulberrys, a pandamus, 2 bottle brushes, 1 lemon, 4 limes and an orange and a huge Silky Oak.

Like you I'm tending to sponsor more ground cover/living mulch but I find that mulchy mulch works as well. Since I don't hose the ground much I get my water beneath by sneaking it under the earth via the clay pots.

While I cut back my trees yearly where necessary -- I'm challenged by the cuttings. Small stems get laid on the paths as much and walked over flattening them, I still get left with a lot of tree branches. The straight ones I use as trellising but the others I throw into the chook pen (until they get very dry) with bonfire  and wood ash in mind.

At the school garden -- the frustrated with the skill  limits of child labour -- I'm installing a succession of fertility/honey holes: like my pots but made up of newspaper, manure and coir with a red shade cloth beret. These, if we soak every week, should add more moisture to the soil than the cursory watering the children (and staff!) do.

After three years I'm going to shift the school garden from patch planting to polycultural mixers. I hope I can take the kids with me as identifying plants and their harvest is important.

So school 'jungle' coming up.

Comment by GayleD on August 31, 2017 at 0:14

Several times recently, I've come across the idea that trees and smaller plants actually help water transfer into the soil and store it near their roots. And all the fungi extending beyond the rootzone means that plants help each other underground.  Certainly the idea of putting water and nutrients into the soil so that plants merely extract it all out is far too simplistic.

More and more I'm moving toward using living mulch that filters water down into the soil rather than thick layers of dry mulch that often stop it getting there. 

Comment by Dave Riley on August 30, 2017 at 22:16

Ah the tyranny of trees! Big 'tings that get in your way and have to be cut back. They fall over,attract termites, strangle pipes and drop 'tings. As well they may impact on one's mental health:

Eccles (Spike Milligan) " I talk to de trees - dat's why they put me away ..." Goon show 1950s

They harbour hungry possums and grow bigger each year....And whats' more, wee people fall out of them.

Since the 80s it is the trees that have turned Brisbane a shady hue of green -- making the urban clime cooler than it should be, obstructing our view of the cement landscape and the lovely bluish depth of bitumen.

Trees can also be used to tackle a bigger problem: the urban heat island. During periods of calm, sunny weather, the air temperature of cities can be raised above that of the surrounding countryside by up to 7°C, especially at night. In cities, the hard, dark asphalt and brick surfaces absorb almost all the incoming short-wave radiation from the sun, heating up to between 40°C and 60°C, and storing energy which is then released into the air during the still of night, when it can be trapped in the narrow street canyons.

Urban trees can counter this process by intercepting the radiation before it reaches the ground, and using the energy for evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration occurs when the sun’s rays hit the trees’ canopy, causing water to evaporate from the leaves. This cools them down – just as sweating cools our skin – thereby reducing the amount of energy left to warm the air.LINK

So I guess they are a necessary curse....but the way some people plant trees -- too many/too big -- I have to wonder if a  mental health warning should be attached to each sapling.

Comment by Christa on August 30, 2017 at 12:53

We have solar panels and decided to put them on our garage area. They are in sunlight 90% of the time. Another neighbouring 50 year old callistemon tree got the chop today.

Comment by Dave Riley on August 30, 2017 at 12:44

What about our solar panels?

I don't let any tree near the house grow higher than the roof and my veg garden preference is frangipani which is deciduous.

I may have a large Silky Oak but that was there from the getgo and this time of year drops leaves in mulchable depth. I rely on what my neighbours have planted too...and adapt my garden to the diurnal and seasonal movements of the sun.

I think 'full sun' isn't really an reliable option.

Comment by Christa on August 30, 2017 at 11:37

Dave, I often wonder about the effect of less rain on our yard. We have the canopy of a large tree which nearly covers the whole backyard. It seems to create it's own little climate area.  When it is deciduous the ground starts to dry and when in leaf it creates a little oasis.  We seem to be applying more water now than in summer, just to keep things alive.  We notice that the tree even in deciduous mode still must use the moisture in the ground, killing the grass beneath. 

We may have to do the unthinkable and buy grass squares for the shade areas.  What a waste of money, I feel.  The Brisbane local area must be starting to dry up, with the number of trees disappearing,  Do you think that with the earth environment heating up, that we should maybe plant more tall cover for the future.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on August 29, 2017 at 21:48

Weird though it seems, even in the wicking beds with their finite amount of water-holding capacity, growing a crop leaves the soil damper than if the soil were just mulched. I thought that the plants transpiring would dry the soil and I am sure that it does to an extent. I do know from observation that fallow ground (even a fallow wicking bed) is drier than a bed with a cover crop at least.

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