With all the talk of the Three Sisters planting, I couldn’t help but think that the appropriate Botany topic this week should be symbiosis.
From the Ancient Greek syn (together) biosis (life). As the German Mycologist Heinrich de Bary said, “the living together of two or more unlike organisms.”
For the purposes of a gardening blog, I’m going to focus on how different plants, growing together, help each other and fulfill the symbiotic relationship.
Let’s take a look again at the Three Sisters or better yet, let’s look at all Four Sisters.
First sister: Corn
Corn grows tall and is sturdy. It can be sown fairly close together, forming compact clusters. Corn is a heavy feeder, not fixing nitrogen, only using nutrients and not giving any back to the soil.
Second Sister: Beans
Beans fix nitrogen in the soil. They grow on long vines that need support. They tolerate close proximity to other plants and they are generally happy just about anywhere they are planted.
Third Sister: Squash
Grows low to the ground, vining in an area, filling in the gaps. Squash has sharp prickles on its stem and leaves that are an aggravation to would be pests. It’s large leaves shade the area below, blocking the sun from weeds that might want to invade, shutting them out. It’s flowers beckon to the pollinators. The vines grip the ground, keeping soil from washing away.
The Fourth Sister (Grown by the Tewa Indians of the Southwest)
Rocky Mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata) attracts bees and other pollinators.
Sisters Working Together Symbiotically
The corn stretches up 5-6 feet, the beans grow up the cornstalks, feeding the corn and the squash with it’s nitrogen fixing abilities, using the corn as it’s trellis. The squash spreads out along the bottom shading out weeds and keeping the ground moist, also providing a fortress from pests with its spiky hairs. The bee plant beckons to the pollinators, which then take the opportunity to pollinate all the sisters. Win-win-win- (win)! Symbiosis
So what are some other great companion plantings? You might try these:
Tomatoes: Basil, Bee Balm, Borage, Tansy, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Parsley
Eggplant: Beans, Catnip
Squash: Beans, Peas, Nasturtium, Corn
Strawberries: Bush beans, spinach, borage, lettuce (as a border)
Cucumbers: Borage, Corn, Peas, Radishes, Sunflowers
These are just a few suggestions. There are a few great articles I’m linking to for loads more great companion ideas.
It’s also important to note that there are a few plants out there that really don’t play well with others. You should be careful about where you put these guys. They’re your “special” elves that are either too bossy to get along nicely or too ornery to mingle.
This seems to be the case with fennel. Dill has some issues, although it will form the occasional alliance with cabbage when prompted and will tolerate fennel and Coriander (cilantro) when instructed to do so.
I just go ahead and segregate my fennel and my dill. I tried just taking their phones away, it just seems like it was punishing the entire family instead of them. From now on they’re just banished to their own corners.
I lined an old tire that someone had discarded in the woods next to the house with a trash bag, filled it with dirt and put my fennel and dill in those. It made a cute raised bed arrangement. I may see if I can find some more tires to make an entire line of them along the treeline. I think it would go far in keeping some of the nibblers out of the garden as well. I can put wormwood and yarrow along there, or maybe more flowers, that would be pretty. Great, now I have a new project.
Better get too it.
Let’s you and I be symbiotic! Have a paisley day!~KeriAnne