…is called Knotts Island, North Carolina. Within that circle is the property we live on, with its old farmhouse, large yard, gardens, flora and fauna (wild and domestic). We try to live small on the land, and low on the food chain- our most recent effort is a 57 foot by 25 foot sunny area we prepared for a Native American “Three Sisters” garden- the sisters are corn, beans and squash.
We borrowed a tiller from friends and Rod (my husband) tilled the area- then had to adjust it to make it oriented to the four directions. Then we raked and hoed and otherwise toiled to weed, clear and level the space. I had gotten a book from the library called Native American Gardening (by Michael J. Caduto & Joseph Bruchac) that had plans for a Three Sisters garden; we chose the Wampanoag plan. Instead of planting the corn in straight rows, you plant them in mounds that are four feet apart, with four corn seeds planted on top of each mound (6 inches apart and one in each of the four directions).
Two wagon wheels mounted on a four-foot axle served as our guide for spacing the mounds. I sat on the “tongue” and Rod pulled me up and down the garden, east/west and north/south, so that the wheels made tracks in a grid pattern. The pattern is 25′ x 25′, since our total length was 57 feet, we did two grids side by side; the extra 7′ allowed us to have an aisle in between the two grids to use as a walkway. We also used part of that walkway area to transplant some plants we had growing in other gardens that needed more space and/or sunlight.
After we finished making the grid pattern, we formed the mounds using “good dirt” from compost piles around our yard and a pile of horse manure mixed with wood chips we’d gotten from a stable last year. There are 72 mounds. After forming each one, we planted the seeds- Silver Queen corn on the west side, Ruby Queen (a red-eared corn) and a sweet corn called Golden Cross Bantam on the east side (not exactly traditional Indian-type corn, but what was available locally).
This is me, Mari, in a photo taken by Rod, in the Three Sisters garden. In the foreground are the wagon wheels we used to space the mounds, which you can see here. Rod also dug a ditch around the entire garden which you can’t see here; strangely, we haven’t seen any animal tracks in the garden since then. Usually we see deer, raccoon, fox and occasionally bobcat tracks in our other gardens and our neighbor’s garden. This neighbor is in a constant battle with weeds, bugs and critters for his crops. He sprays pesticides on a regular basis. The Native American Gardening book stresses planting enough to share with the critters. We won’t be using pesticides, but this is a topic for another day.
We planted the corn on May 28th and the 29th. The Silver Queen and sweet corn are already showing tiny green tips above the dirt. In the next few days, we’ll plant the beans on the sides of the mounds, four seeds to a mound. Later, after the corn and beans have had a chance to establish themselves, we’ll plant the squash, which goes in mounds between the corn/bean mounds. It’s a symbiotic relationship in which the corn plants provide “poles” for the beans to climb up on, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn, and the squash plants, with their large, ground-covering leaves, shade the soil and prevent weeds from taking over.
We have already had confirmation from the land for our Native American garden: in over 30 years of collecting glass shards and pottery sherds around this piece of land, Rod has never found an arrowhead (point, actually). While working this garden, he found his first. A few days later, I found a fist-sized rock that had been worked around the middle to make a groove to attach it to a handle. The relationship to the past is also symbiotic.