Monday, February 25, 2008

Wampanoag Three Sisters Garden (acclimated to the south east by Native Americans

Wampanoag Three Sisters Garden

It was the Wampanoag gardens that enabled the early settlers of Jamestown to survive and thrive in the New World. Squanto was a Wampanoag who "taught the newcomers to plant maize in little hills and fertilize each mound with an alewife, a species of fish". With this efficient and intensive gardening style, each family could sustain their needs on about one acre of land. Many of the tribes of the Northeast, including the Iroquois, used the Wampanoag garden design. Planted without plowing or tilling, the traditional Wampanoag garden includes corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. The corn and beans are planted in mounds, with squash planted between the mounds.

The sunflowers are planted along the north edge of the garden, so that they do not cast a shadow on the other crops . When the sunflowers have bloomed and the squash and beans have flowered, the Wampanoag Three Sisters garden becomes a stunning cluster of red, yellow, and white flowers against a textured backdrop of shimmering greens.

First, the raised corn and bean mounds must be constructed. These small mounds are laid out in rows with 4 feet between the centers of the mounds . Each mound is about 4 inches high, with a wide base (about 18 inches in diameter) that narrows to a flattened top (about 10 inches across). To conserve moisture, a depression with a lip may be formed at the top of each mound . The finished mounds have a remarkable resemblance to miniature moon craters.

When the mounds are ready, plant four corn seeds about 6 inches apart and 3 inches deep in the top of each mound. Once the corn has grown to a height of 4 inches or more, plant four beans seeds halfway down the slopes on the sides of each mound . Allow the bean vines to entwine themselves around the cornstalks for support. The bean vines may be pruned if they get too aggressive .

Squash seedlings are planted at the same time as the beans. Construct rounded mounds 3 inches high and about 1 foot across at the base. The squash mounds are staggered between the mounds of corn and beans . Traditionally, four seedlings are planted in the top of each mound.

The seedlings are arranged to represent each of the four sacred directions . Both winter and summer varieties are planted, including pumpkins, acorn squash, and summer crookneck squash . Sunflower seeds are planted at the same time as the corn. The smaller-flowering common sunflower, Helianthus annus, is traditionally grown in a Wampanoag Three Sisters garden. The sunflower mounds are located at the north edge of the garden. The mounds are spaced about three feet apart from center, with three seeds planted (one seed per hole) atop each mound. The sunflowers seeds are traditionally harvested after the first frost.