Sep 28 2010

Have you planned your Wampanoag Garden yet?

A Wampanoag Garden is one of the clever Native American garden systems used to grow the “three sisters” of corn, squash and beans like the Native Americans have been doing for thousands of years. Each different Native American culture has their own style of doing things and two years ago, in the fall of 2008, I found a fantastic website outlining the history and methods of three sister Native American gardens from several different tribes.

Once you catch on to the beauty of these companion planting practices, you’ll want to keep this web site handy for reference. I want to share with you that the web site’s section on Squanto’s Secret Garden is my favorite pdf of all time. You will have to sign up to get the free e-book, but I did two years ago and have never regretted it.  The Squanto’s Secret Garden e-book is wonderfully informative and well worth the time investment.

Sampling of “The Wampanoag Garden” from Squanto’s Secret Garden pdf:

“This is the design that is most traditionally associated with Squanto and the Pilgrims. Many of the Native American tribes of the Northeast used this garden design. This garden is traditionally planted in a round shape, however, feel free to modify it if it does not suit your gardening area. Keep in mind that it would be possible to create a round shape within a rectangular one, and use the corner portions for gardening other plants that do not suit your companion planting.

First, you will need to form the mounds for the beans and corn. Each mound is about four inches high, with a wide base about 18 inches in diameter. Each of the mounds should be four feet away from the other mounds, measuring from the center of each mound. You can conserve moisture by forming a crater like depression on the top of each mound. Plant four corn seeds six inches apart from each other, three inches into the mound.

At the same time you plant the corn, you can also plant the sunflowers. The sunflowers should be positioned at the North end of the garden so that they do not block sunlight. The sunflower mounds should be placed about three feet apart. Three seeds in separate holes can be planted at the top of each mound. Squash should be planted in the house in pots or seed trays to allow it to develop into seedlings ready for planting.”

A Mantis Tiller makes breaking new ground easy.

In the spring of 2010, we began building up the soil our Wampanoag Garden. When you measure out the garden outlined in the Squanto’s Secret Garden pdf, the result is a round garden that’s 18 feet in diameter. But, we decided, with the space we have, 18 feet is too big, so we downsized to one that’s 12 feet in diameter. We begrudgingly sacrificed the spacing for a few plants to have ease of movement in and around the garden.

We are planning on planting our three sister garden in the spring of 2011, so this year we planted a cover crop of clover, added earthworms and nematodes and sat back and did nothing else all summer. We grew the clover crop, planning on tilling it back in to the soil to increase nitrogen in the soil as most soil needs more nitrogen to support nutrient vegetable growth. Building up nitrogen is the reason Native Americans buried a fish in with seeds and corn kernels when they planted.

Another big educational aspect of the Squanto’s Secret Garden web site is that most soils are depleted. Most everyone therefore, will need to build up their soil before having successfully nutritious foods produced from it. Providing the minerals and nutrients necessary for enhanced growth without chemical fertilizers allows dependably healthy plants that are able to fight off diseases and nasty invaders. And the produce grown from such plants has added nutritional value in every bite. Nutrient dense foods are what we all need to live.  If the soil doesn’t have what plants need to thrive, then the vegetables produced from the compromised plants will not have what people need to thrive.

Building up the soil insures your work will be rewarded.

Currently, we are getting ready to till the garden again so that the clover cover will be ground up into the soil. We will also ground the soil very fine and then let it sit over winter so it forms a healthy network of soil organisms, and with just a bit of work in the spring, the ground will be ready for planting. We are also adding Protogrow soil nutrients to the soil as we till with the Mantis to give our seedlings a head start next spring. Here is the website for Protogrow, where you can learn more about soil depletion, trace elements and how to replicate the techniques that Squanto used to enrich the soil and save the Pilgrims. There is also a Protogrow blog that’s fun and informative on this link.

Gardening vegetables with natural nutrients makes our vegetables as organic as we can get them.  We are lucky because the previous owner of this property loved birds and would not use chemical fertilizers on the lawn or gardens because he felt it harmed the birds.

If you are not convinced that organically grown vegetables are a necessity to a fully functional body, take time to read this article. It outlines a study comparing the nutritional value of organically grown foods to those produced by traditional farming. It also outlines how the nutritional content of produce has decreased over the years, so much so, that the FDA vitamin requirements most of us are using are outdated. In some cases, twice as many units of vegetables are needed to be consumed to equal the vitamin content of vegetables grown when the FDA values were calculated. And, remember, when they say “traditional farming,” they mean modern day farming familiar to most readers of the article. What they are not acknowledging is that the “old time” farming before the “traditional farming” used many of the same techniques we call organic today.  That was all people had and that was what was successfully used for thousands of years.

If you would like an introduction to Protogrow, there are many videos on YouTube that will help. Here is one by Jerry Greenfield. To watch, click play:

We will be sharing our Wampanoag Garden progress with you here at Sunbonnet Smart to share our excitement about companion planting and, especially, growing the “three sisters” of corn, beans and squash together. In the next couple of days, we will be sharing some history of the Wampanoag people and Plymouth, Massachusetts, just in time for making Thanksgiving plans.

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