My son had to teach a lesson in third grade, some activity he was good at, and when I heard him propose something about video games, I immediately suggested planting the three sisters and pushed the idea hard. I didn’t give my son time to suggest other ideas and come up with his own, which is how the assignment was supposed to be.
I hate that I did that, but I did it because I was afraid his mother might let him get away with some easy but dull idea because he had to pick an idea that night and was wanting to play video games rather than think about it. I also wanted to make sure that most of his time for the lesson preparation wasn’t spent shopping for craft materials aimed at children and buying an idea.
I couldn’t stand the thought of that opportunity being wasted when it could be used to show the children something real that might literally change some of their lives, possibly plant a lifelong passion or interest in someone.
But who knows, maybe he and his mother would have come up with making a healthy salad or something equally important for him and the other kids to learn.
I felt so guilty about railroading the planting idea on my son that I wrote up why I thought it was important to have this as a lesson.
Planting the Native American “Three Sisters”
The Three Sisters
“The Three Sisters” are corn, beans, and squash.
Our Native American ancestors called these plants “the three sisters” and grew them together.
They grew many types of each of the three plants.
They found the original seeds growing wild.
They planted the corn in the middle and squash around the corn so that the prickly squash kept deer away.
The roots of the beans made the natural nitrogen fertilizer that fertilized all three plants.
The bean vines and squash vines climbed up the tall corn plants.
Why Plant These Now?
You can plant these seeds and help preserve the genetic wealth of our ancestors.
Plant these seeds and then harvest the seeds they make and plant them again the following year.
There might be a year when these seeds will grow while other varieties of the same vegetable fail to grow.
Planting these seeds might be very important.
Loss of Native Varieties
The problem is that there are fewer and fewer varieties of most food plants each year as different varieties go extinct. People aren’t growing the varieties anymore, and the development of land for human use is killing other wild varieties.
Modern corporate farms grow the most productive variety only or the variety that produces the biggest fruit or something like that.
Modern corporate farms don’t grow all the hundreds of varieties people used to grow on small family farms just a few generations ago.
That’s why home gardners should plant native varieties.
That’s why we are learning to plant the Three Sisters of our ancestors.
It helps preverve genetic diversity and ensure that people in the future can raise the food they need.
The Irish Potato Famine
Here is an example from the past about the potato and how important native varieties are:
The potato is a Native American plant. The Spanish brought it back to Europe from the Andes Mountains of South America in the 1500s.
By the 1840s, many Europeans depended on this valuable crop for their food because the potato grew well in cool wet weather there.
The problem is that the Europeans were only growing one of the many varieties that Native Americans grew.
That one variety was susceptible to a blight, which is a disease that kills the potato plant and makes the potatoes rot in the ground.
When the blight stuck Europe, many people went hungry and starved to death.
Over a million people in the small country of Ireland died of starvation, and many others had to immigrate to America because there was nothing to eat.
Writing the Instructions
I also wrote up “How To Plant The Three Sisters.” It assumes you are using a plastic seeding tray and a large zipping freezer bag for the kids to take it home without dumping wet potting soil everywhere. But, you could do the same thing with recycled cans with holes punched in the bottom with a church key and have the kids take them home in recycled plastic grocery bags, double bagged.
Make every aspect of the project teach something important. It isn’t just teaching them about recycling. It’s also about teaching them to improvise and use what they have instead of buying a solution.
That being said, you may not have the seeds you need locally, not if you want native or heirloom varieties and want to avoid GMOs. In that case, it is a situation where commerce is a force for good because your purchases encourage these seeds to be grown for sale.
I ordered native and heirloom seeds of all type for my garden this year from RareSeeds.com and SeedSavers.org and ebay.com. Isons.com and Tytyga.com are Georgia nurseries where I got my muscadine vines and pomegranate trees. You can find great persimmon and pawpaw trees on ebay.
How To Plant The Three Sisters
Fill the plastic tray with potting soil.
Pat the soil down a little bit so that it is firm and not loose.
Make sure the soil comes all the way up to the top.
Make sure you can still see the dividers between the 6 cells.
Use your finger to make a hole in the soil in the center of each cell.
Make the holes 1 inch deep.
Put half of your corn seeds in a hole.
Cover them up.
Put half your corn seeds in a second hole.
Cover them up.
Do the same for the squash and the bean seeds.
Water the soil gently.
If seeds become uncovered, cover them back up, but make sure the seeds aren’t deeper than 1 inch.
Put the tray in the plastic bag for taking home.
At home, put the tray in a sunny spot, but not inside a hot window.
Water twice a day at least to keep the dirt moist. If the dirt dries out, the seed will die, especially after it starts to grow.
Keep a plate under the tray to catch the water that runs out the bottom of the tray.
Plant these in a big pot or garden spot once the seedlings are about 3 to 4 inches tall.
Water them daily, especially if the weather is hot and dry.
Do you see why our Native American ancestors grew their vegetables in the flood plains of creeks and rivers where it was damp?
At home you can grow more vegetables in recycled food containers. You can get seeds from the mellons, tomatoes, peppers, and berries that you eat.