The front yard corn hills are in their second year of production this season, bearing corn/maize (Zea mays of the family Poaceae), squash (Cucurbitaceae), and beans (Fabaceae or Leguminosae), a trio known as the three sisters. These plants are beneficially grown together: corn provides support for beans throughout the season, squash protects the corn roots and cools the soil while shading out the weeds, and beans fix nitrogen in the soil. Grown among them are mints, nettles, nasturtiums, and various wind-sown wildflowers.
We enjoyed great success last year with white corn, purple-podded-pole-beans, and various hybridized pumpkins (see the last two images in this post for purple beans and yellow squash flowers). This year we’ve planted bi-color corn which should produce yellow and white kernels. Shown above are the initial plantings from the new moon in June, with updated photos taken at last week’s new moon (shown below).
One-third of one hill has been sown with both green and purple-podded pole beans. More beans will be sown in coming days, and again next month, to determine how late I can grow mature successions in the Pacific Northwest. Our summer heat arrived very late, so I have a hunch we’ll enjoy warmth through October this year.
Although the two cucumber plants are having a little trouble getting started, the zucchini is out ahead of everyone, and the sugar pie pumpkins have cleared the fence and are happily exploring the yard. The zucchini fruits mature quickly. As you can see, one zucchini has been allowed to grow to a ridiculous size (it’s about three times as large now as it was when this last photo was taken), and it will be used for a cous-cous-stuffed zucchini recipe from Cooking by the Seasons: Simple Vegetarian Feasts by Karri Ann Allrich. I’ve been waiting to try this recipe, and I know I’ve raised a splendid candidate.
Other zucchinis will be harvested for one of my favorite kitchen delights, zucchini bread, and then later zucchini cheese bake (we’ve previously discussed both recipes in Fun Things to Do with Your Zucchini). The corn was just knee-high for the Fourth of July, so I hope that we’ll be eating fresh ears by the end of August. The beans had a slow start, but I know once they get going they’ll be ready in no time. We’re also fortunate to have discovered a broccoli volunteer tucked in with the zucchini, which already has its first main broccoli head nearing harvest size.
It’s not just the bounty of food that makes me love growing the three sisters. If you like a lot of color in your garden, these foods are an easy way to bring it. Squash blossoms are unrivaled sun-catchers, corn offers many surprising colors (my favorites being the purple blushes of fresh silk; the violet hue is revealed again as the leaves and stalks dry and weather with the approach of autumn). All these plants attract many varieties of bees, spiders, and other crawlies, and if you throw in a few sunflowers you’ll be guaranteed many colorful visitors.
Ahead: sunflower transplants, cold frame change-ups, and more…