Corn is such an iconic plant. For Americans I think there is nothing you can grow that moves us as deeply. Corn is ours. It figures into our national mythology and rules our midwest. Corn grown and eaten right (i.e. not in monoculture and not processed into everything you consume) is a marvelous food-- high in protein and nutrients, easy to preserve, beloved by everyone.
Last year as part of my Growing Challenge, I did corn for the first time, in a rather modified Three Sisters plot. It was not entirely successful, but I found the growing of it so satisfying that I put in a much larger plot this year, and set up the Three Sisters properly.
So, who are the Three Sisters?
They are corn, beans, and squash, a happy combination of plants that compliment each other. Squash and corn are heavy feeders, and the beans mitigate this. The squash grows densely along the ground, shading out the weeds; the beans grow up the corn stalks. You can harvest them as they ripen, or leave them in the plot to harvest all together in the fall. A great description of the Three Sisters is on GardenWeb; I can't really improve on this instruction or history.
I've also set up a Three Sisters garden at Peterson Garden as one of the demonstration plots. The corn is still small there; I'll plant the beans in a couple of weeks or when the corn reaches 10" high and has several sets of leaves, and add a native pepper and sweet potatoes.
You can see my journals about the experiment, and this year's larger attempt on MyFolia.
The Three Sisters come with their own wonderful meal as well.
2 cups fresh corn niblets
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeno or other small hot chili pepper, diced
1 cup squash (any type), chopped
2 cups beans (green beans off the vine, lima beans, or shelled beans, soaked overnight)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp ground cumin seed
1 tsp salt
Heat oil (vegetable or peanut) in a large sauté pan and add the corn, peppers, and onion, then sauté until the vegetables start to brown and caramelize slightly. This should only take about 5 to 7 minutes. Add oil if necessary, and the sweet potato, squash, cumin, salt, black pepper and garlic. Cook for another 3 minutes on medium heat. Add the broth and lima beans. Simmer until all the vegetables are tender.
4 hours ago