Ancient Farming for Modern Times

How to grow three crops in the space usually reserved for one? Just look to the ancient methods developed by Native American tribes.

Sometimes, you need to look back to move forward. In this instance, that meant finding inspiration in the ancient planting techniques developed by Native American tribes.

“They call it the ‘Three Sisters’,” Jamie Walton, Head Grower at Raithwaite Sandsend explains, “where each of the ‘sisters’ benefits and enhances the production and environment of the others.”

We’ve been growing sweetcorn, climbing beans and pumpkin or squash, all planted together to mimic the natural layers of a woodland or forest. “Not only does this enable three crops to be produced within one space – maximising yield per growing plot – it also increases soil fertility and biodiversity,” says Jamie.

The first of the Three Sisters is sweetcorn, which grows tall and strong and provides a structure for the beans to climb up. The beans then help stabilise the corn, while fixing nitrogen into the soil for optimum growth. Lastly, the sprawling squash plants act as a living mulch which blocks sunlight from the soil. This helps reduce erosion, control soil temperatures, minimise moisture loss and suppress weed growth. The prickly squash leaves even help deter common garden pests.

As Jamie explains, “This planting method was developed by Native Americans due to the extreme conditions in which they had to produce crops. It maximised their yields, and each of the crops could be stored throughout winter, between them covering many nutritional requirements.”

The Three Sisters Planting Method is just one of many companion plantings we utilise in our Kitchen Garden. It is a more sustainable form of gardening, increasing biodiversity, attracting pollinators and enhancing our soil fertility – a win-win solution all round.

Find out more about our ongoing sustainability initiatives.

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