Sunday, May 28, 2017

No-Till, No-Spray 3 Sisters Garden: Corn, Beans, Squash

Here's our small field of freshly-planted corn, beans, squash, and a variety of other edible perennial vegetables, many of which are North American native plants. Most of us are used to seeing the bare soil of plowed fields, completely denuded of plants. Have you ever seen a planted grain field that looks like this?

The "holy grail" of modern sustainable agriculture is honestly no-till, no spray grain production. Better yet, what if our production methods could actually increase biodiversity and fertility, while leaving the biotic community in tact, instead of destroying it to create a "clean slate" by tilling.

Producing calorie crops without destroying a healthy ecosystem is also one of our major goals here at Lillie House, both because it preserves valuable ecosystem functions that keep plants healthy, and because it avoiding tilling or digging the soil would save time and hard work.

Since modern agricultural techniques either require tilling or heavy spraying of petrochemicals, this is generally reckoned to be IMPOSSIBLE by modern experts. However, it's also widely believed (though not without some controversy) that Native Americans had done it for centuries or millennia, producing 3-4 times the yield/acre as European "scientific" agriculture prior to industrialization.

Here's a fantastic little treatment on the topic of the Native American horticultural techniques I often talk about in my classes and talks:
Unfortuantely, as explained in this great little article from 2012, much of that advanced technology and knowledge was suppressed by colonial governments. But what we do know, is:
- a wide variety of techniques were likely used
- there was no tilling and minimal digging
- fire was probably used at some points, but
- other researchers believe that methods were theoretically used which "kept fields alive" and allowed natives to sow 3 sisters directly into diverse perennial grasslands and savannah ecosystems which may have also been filled with other useful forbs.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to find in-depth details as to how that was likely accomplished. For example, we can read that Squanto planted 3 sisters into mounds of "dirt" and wood ash, with a fish at the bottom. We can infer that he would have made these mounds into some kind of untilled field ecosystem (possibly maintained by periodic burning.) We can guess that these "mounds" were essentially like the no-till deep mulch documented in indigenous horticulture around the world and popularized in Permaculture circles by Bill Mollison. But where did this "dirt" come from? Was anything else done to prep the land for planting? Were fields necessarily dug with bone tools as practiced by Buffalo Bird Woman? Were her gardens and those planted by Squanto perhaps influenced by the tilling practices of Europeans?

Having experimented deeply with no-till production into perennial crop systems, and having experimented with 3-sisters plantings for around a decade, I've come to believe that these native horticulturists would have likely done what any good gardener today would do: use whatever was at hand to accomplish the task with the minimum work necessary.

We've planted 3 sisters gardens for the last few years into our perennially-covered beds without digging or tilling, but this year, we're looking into techniques to plant into untilled field ecosystems. In our 3 sisters planting this year, we're experimenting with using a few different techniques and materials to create little mini "sheet mulch mounds" directly into our edible/ornamental meadow, or "eaddow" project, which has a large emphasis on native edible forbes. We followed the Wampanoag system of planting (on the 5 foot centers, recommended for our latitude) and selected varieties of corn, beans and squash that are thought to be traditional and appropriate to 3-sisters plantings in the Eastern Woodland region, based on suggestions from our friend John Edgerton and our friend Julian's success with Oaxacan Green corn in S.W. Michigan.

(Image from CMU)
I'm anticipating troubles with slugs, pill bugs and other primary decomposers during germination, and trouble with management of the grasses and other plants in the "eaddow." But we're hoping we can make something like this a permanent part of the management cycle for our "eaddow," and can have a system for harvesting a variety of roots, nursery plants and vegetables in addition to our corn, beans and squash.

And if it works, it should save us a lot of time and work. In this case, we prepared and planted around a 30' * 30' section of meadow, using materials almost entirely from on site, in about 4-5 hours total work. It would have taken considerably longer to dig or till this area. Wish us luck, we'll continue to share updates on this project.


  1. Another resource with a few sparse notes on the history of no-till cropping systems. Unfortunately, information on this topic is particularly poor and very often influenced by biases.

  2. Nice bibliography on "slash mulch" no-till techniques, adopted by Bill Mollison as "chop and drop." This is essentially the technique we're using for our 3-sisters planting.


  3. From my research, it appears many traditional slash-mulch systems utilize a perennial cover, such as central American farmers who slash mulch perennial sunflower at time of planting, or Nepalese farmers who use malabar nut shrubs in nearby hedgerows to smother the field prior to planting.

    Considering the timing of crops in Michigan, here is a list of potential herbaceous perennials for experimenting with slash-mulch systems, that I believe should reach size and ground dominance prior to corn-planting season, that may make them ideal for imitating these indigenous slashmulch systems: Comfrey, chickory, sorrel, valerian, marshmallow, sun chokes, motherwort, dock. We have found these to work well as mulch-maker plants in our garden for these reasons.

  4. So, how did it go? Can you update us?

    1. Yes. Full write-up is pending, but I recently calculated yield at 111,510 calories of corn from our test plot, which is just under expectations for conventional ag at 114,000 calories. That's about 190 cups of cornmeal, about 200 batches of corn muffins or large bowls of polenta. That's better than expected. Total calories including squash came to 116,510, around 2% lower than the expected in top producing conventional corn plots of the same size (120,000 calories.) Plus we harvested additional cut flowers, summer squash, beans, sorrel, greens, camas, assorted alliums and other root crops from the same plot, with no additional imported fertilizer, no tilling and minimal irrigation . For a preview of the full report, including pictures through the season, you can find us on Facebook or Instagram. It will probably be another month before the full report is ready, but I want to have it ready in time for summer planting of hot-weather crops.

  5. ฟิลเลอร์เป็นอย่างไร


    ว่า เดอร์มอล ฟิลเลอร์ เป็น

    สารไฮยารูโรนิก แอใกล้

    หรือ HA เป็นสารที่การันตี


    แล้ว เป็นสารสกัดที่ได้มาจากธรรมชาติ


    ของคลอลาเจน มีองค์ประกอบ


    ทางเคมี ซึ่งมีอยู่แล้วในเซลล์ผิว มีความปลอดภัยสูงฉีดฟิลเลอร์คาง

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further post thank you once again. Nice article and pleasant arguments commented here, I am genuinely enjoying by these. If you have time you can check Amazon Gift Card

  7. Call My Lost Phone is a free online site that allows you to make free calls directly from your PC or smartphone to another phone directly from your browser.

  8. Easy play, fast money, must choose online slot game 918kiss
    Playing online slots It is another easy option that will help players to make money and enjoy playing casino games even more. Which people are interested in coming to play online casino games Able to participate And choose to play online slots games in the format that interests you on our website. With game style Is a game that is fun Enjoyment In addition, players have the opportunity to raise more money. Which today, if you are interested To know more about online slots games than ever before We will bring you to know And start making money with online casino games at the same time with online slots games
    Play slots games online.
    Slot games are online casino games that are associated with casinos for a long time. And when this slot game came into being in the form of online casino games, slots were developed. Allowing players to easily access the game And faster So if you are interested in playing online slots games Then can choose to play this game on our website right away We have a slot game company like 918kiss that will help you have fun. And more excited with casino slots games than ever before because of this gaming camp You can make money and create fun with the game very easily.
    If you are interested in playing this 918kiss slot game Has to be prepared Prepare well before entering the game. Because with the variety of slot games to increase the chances of making money for players. Especially the study of gaming techniques Considered another important issue that players must study. Because of various techniques It will help the subject of making money from online casino games as well.
    Amateur game lottery 918kiss
    Online slots gaming It is another good pick. That will help gamers easily make money from this online casino game Because players must choose to sign up to play slots games with a trusted casino online There are various promotions for players. Which is considered to increase the opportunity to make money And prevent problems that may occur after playing this online casino game
    The fun that you will get from playing 918kiss online casino games has many stories. But if you want money Want to have more income Choosing to play casino games at 918kiss slots is another option that you should not overlook. And if you are interested, you can apply to contact us at our online casino for 24 hours. We are ready to give advice. With all the issues of online casino games that you want

  9. pg slot ทดลองเล่น หากิจกรรมยามว่างฆ่าเวลาเเถมยังได้เงินต้องทดลองเล่น พีจีสล็อต เกมคาสิโนออนไลน์สะดวกสุดๆ เล่นที่ไหนก็ได้ 24ชม.โบนัสเเตกง่าย รับเงินไปเลยฝาก-ถอนง่ายเเละไว