Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My experiments with 3 sisters planting

In the comments for my last post I was asked about how my experiments with three sisters planting went this season.

I did five beds in various combinations:

1, Corn, snake beans, melon
2, Corn, snow peas, melon
3, Sunflowers, snow peas, carrots
4, Jerusalem artichoke, snake bean, Chinese artichoke
5, Sunflowers, snake beans, mouse melon

I have to admit that every bed was a dismal failure. The taller plants seemed to suck all the nutrients out of the soil around them and the plants under or to the sides of them never grew, they stayed tiny and stunted.
It didn't matter how far away the smaller plants were, if they were anywhere within 1m of the taller plants they were seriously affected. It also did not matter whether the smaller plants were on the sunny or shady sides.
I didn't take any pictures as you can easily imagine what it looks like.

The only good that came out of these plantings are that the dead tall plants (only the sunflowers at the moment) seem to make good things for the snow peas that I am planting now to climb on.

I was really surprised at the results as this is a planting technique that is often quoted online and in books. I am going to plant beds just of one of the taller plants at a time next year just to provide climbing frames for the winter peas after they are dead.

Another technique I played with in a couple of beds was no-dig. I found that this did not get anywhere near the production of the beds that I dig between every one or two crops. Since my digging doesn't seem to adversly affect my soil (maybe because it is so sandy) or the soil animals I will continue to do it.
No dig gardening would be best in my opinion is digging is just too hard such as on clay or stoney soil.

In other news: the weeds are really coming up strongly now so I am spending all morning on my knees weeding, but I also have other jobs to do such as digging new beds and planting all the spring bulbs.

On that note, I did say that I was going to try my new pink shallots roasted as suggested on some sites. Well... I was amazed, the taste of these shallots when roasted or slowly fried is astoundingly good. I love them. They are not strongly oniony but mild and sweet. They are probably too mild to use as an ingredient but cooked and served as a vegetable on their own they are fantastic, even people who are not fussed about onions will like them.
There is no doubt about it now, they will be totally replacing my Golden shallots next year.


  1. Your results of the three sisters plantings really surprised me. I have been looking into permaculture principals online and it is a technique that is toted left, right and centre. Hmmm... Your shallots sound divine. I shall need to order some from you in the future. Just wondering, do you use alliums or strong-smelling herbs (oregano, etc) as borders in any of your beds to deter the evil, creepy and nasty bugs? Do you think they would be effective?

  2. I have thought about it but I haven't really had that much of a problem with the sort of pests that herbs would help with, and I would have to research what herbs would be non invasive in the bed and suit my growing schedules and such.

    So far with the few herbs I do grow they are more of a pain in the neck than anything else with spreading and bolting and they don't sell for me at markets so they are a bit of a waste of space as they don't seem to make any difference in pest control.
    I think that careful rotations are my best bet and have been working well so far.