I started out full of myself. And multiple enthusiasms. This would be the most unusual, fresh version of the Three Sisters the world had ever seen. And it was all going into my prize bronze-brown Vietnamese pot, the big one that I’d splurged on at the discount store (it was only a few dollars more than a plastic one the same size, I told myself). I had vague, secret-from-myself dreams of how I’d win the Fine Gardening container contest, with becoming modesty of course.
Then came the reality.
Those yin-yang beans I bought to twine up the cornstalks? Well, as it happens, they were bush beans. They weren’t going to twine anywhere. And they didn’t seem to like the circumstances I’d put them in, either; I harvested two pods with two beans in them and that was it. The leaves had a ratty white-spotted look, too, that I think was due to nitrogen deficiency. I did get enough beans to replace the ones I planted, though the ones I harvested were kind of scrawny.
OK, then there were the violetto trionfo beans that actually do climb. (I planted three of them, and three of the yin-yang beans. Six stalks of corn.) I’ve got at least one of them running up the cornstalk now. But they’re just blooming, and the way those corn cobs feel, the corn’s going to be long dead before the beans get ready.
And then there’s the corn itself. A Japanese exotic corn, striped pink, cream, and white. How cool is that? And it’s actually very pretty-but not nearly as healthy (or colorful) as I’d envisioned. I do admit to getting a laugh out of pruning corn, which has got to be the most Garden Society thing I’ve ever done. The leaves would go dead, and the corn would look funky, so I’d cut off the dead ones. Pruning corn.
Even though it wasn’t what I expected, I have enjoyed seeing the corn evolve, from its first pale stripes to the dark burgundy color that’s spreading ever further along the stalk. And even though it’s not as tall and bushy and strong as I would have liked, I did get one small ear of wine-red corn on each stalk.
The cucuzzi climbed rampantly out of all the other pots I put it in-but it made a few pale leaves and petered out in this one. The Waltham butternut squash I also put in there is just putting out its first blossom now. And the surprise Brown Sugar canna (deep brown foliage, pink flower, reputedly) I planted late? It did show a tentative green point a month or so ago. And then sank back into the earth.
I think this trio, or quintet, (or sextet, if you count the canna), needed a lot more water than they got in that pot. I put in a reservoir insert, so they did get some bottom watering. And I put in some water-conserving polymers into the soil. But I think that reservoir just wasn’t big enough for such heavy drinkers. Especially in a ceramic pot that allows water to evaporate. It’s a glazed ceramic pot, which is a lot less porous than unglazed. But still.
I think they all needed a lot more food than they got, too. Oh, I did use a heavy-on-compost mix for soil, and put in amendments, the way I do with all of my container plants. And I foliar fed them, the way I do my whole garden. But corn, beans, and squash are notoriously nitrogen-hungry. They are heavy feeders and drinkers, and I treated them like anorexics.
Recently, I also read that the Three Sisters idea was about handy harvest, as well as space saving. The corn would have been field corn-the kind you gather when it’s ripened hard, to feed to livestock. (William Alexander suggests a modern version: use popcorn.) The squash would have been winter squash or pumpkins–not harvested until their shells were hard. Late, like the corn. And the beans would have been dry beans, not ones you’d pick off the vine to eat fresh. Dried beans that get harvested when the pods dry.
I could look at this season’s formerly-known-as-star container and be disappointed. But you know what? I’ve enjoyed the little purple curling edges of the corn leaves, and I’m enjoying the purple bean flowers and vines spiraling around the almost-dead corn, and I enjoyed the magic of opening up my two little pathetic yin-yang pods and finding replicas of the little seeds I planted.
I even enjoyed pruning corn.
The $64 Tomato, William Alexander, Algonquin Press, 2006
Places to get seeds:
yin-yang beans: Park’s
violetto trionfo beans (I notice they are not in the current catalogue. They’d been sitting for some years): Pinetree Gardens
Japanese ornamental corn: JL Hudson
cucuzzi squash: JL Hudson
Waltham butternut: Pinetree Gardens