The three sisters.

Early in the year we decided to cover our entire vegetable patch with a thick mulch of barley straw. If you plan to do this, it is advisable to look for organic straw as it will not contain any chemical and pesticide residue.  We put on a good foot across the whole area.

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This week it was time to plant out a few of our seedlings and we raked the straw to the side of the beds, to have a look at the soil underneath. Much to our astonishment, all the weeds were eliminated or very much weakened. Instead of spending hours pulling up nettles, creeping buttercups, docks and couch grass, we pulled out a few bleached and struggling specimens. Even the roots had withered and weakened so much most of them were very easy to remove. We had been planning to keep the straw on the beds but there is no need now as the soil is perfect and will be filled completely with desirable plants in a couple of weeks. Any weeds seeds that germinate will be very easy to hoe off.  The straw will not be wasted however, but will live on as mulch on the paths around the garden.

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In honour of the Native Americans we planted a big patch with the three sisters, corn, winter squash and beans. These crops grow beautifully together, the corn stalks providing tall sturdy support for the beans and the squash trailing across the ground, keeping it cool and shaded with very little competition from weeds. It is also a great way to keep the soil healthy as the three plants come from different plant families. There is much less risk of plant disease with a polyculture like this. We will add a few flowers to the mix as well, to attract all the lovely little pollinators.

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We choose to grow two field corn varieties, fiesta and bloody butcher, as they are able to withstand our cold and blustery climate a lot better than sweet corn varieties. Because corn is wind pollinated it is good to grow it in blocks and not long straight lines. The plastic bottles are a great protection against wind damage while the plants are small. For our winter squash we planted an Italian variety called marina di Chioggia. We have grown this beauty before and it is very tasty and can store for months. We added some broad beans and dwarf French beans to complete our three sisters planting.

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Elsewhere in the garden lots of colourful explosions are taking place. In between our garden work sessions we walk around marvelling at the speed of growth and the beauty of it all. The garden is full of frogs, newts, birds, butterflies, bees and other creatures; all enjoying the beautiful May sunshine. By the looks of it, it’s shaping up to be a wonderful summer in the garden.

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