Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Plan and Plant a Three or Four Sisters and Brothers Garden

First Grade are ready to go outside and plant, but first we need to plan our garden.

It's going to be a Three or Four Sisters and Brothers Garden.
Sunflowers at Jamestown Elementary School
August 2014

by Mary Van Dyke

Who or what are the Three or Four Sisters  - and Brothers?
I have a basket with food items from the grocery store: popcorn, maize, beans, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds to discuss with the students. 
Popcorn, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cowpeas

Today I had pumpkin seeds in my granola. I might have sunflower seeds as a snack and popcorn when I get home from school, and make bean soup for supper. Corn, beans and squash (pumpkins and gourds) are the classic Three Sisters crops. Add sunflower seeds, and you have the Four Sisters crops. Native American traditionally planted these three or four crops together in a garden as they support each other like sisters and brothers.

Gourd Seedlings

The corn is usually planted in the middle of the garden, and then the beans grow up and vine around the corn. The squash: pumpkins and gourds grow on hills in the corners of the garden, and the sunflowers can be planted around the edge of the garden. Beans have nodules on their roots that are able to fix nitrogen from the air and provide other plants nutrients. The squash have big leaves that crowd out weeds.  The sunflowers are tall and might protect the garden from wildlife or provide wildlife food and act as a decoy for the other crops. Sunflowers also produce chemicals that suppress other plants, so can help keep down weeds too.

Outside we have two long thin beds (12 foot x 4 foot) for our garden space and three classes of 24+ students.

I sketch and discuss a couple of plans and design options on paper, and include the first graders in the design process.

Design #1 we make one garden, with the two beds, all working together in stages. Here's corn in the middle, the sunflowers around the edge, the hills for squash, and the beans...

Design #1 for one garden over two beds

Design #2 with 6 small gardens in the two beds

Design #2 we could make 6 gardens, with the two beds...

We decide to go with Design #1 and work together as one big team.

I've pre-soaked giant sunflower, assorted gourd, cowpea and heritage red corn seeds to show the class and for us to plant.

The students are going to plant a seed each and make a popsicle stick label for the seed.

The students were very excited to be outside working in the soil and found worms and grubs. We also weeded as well as planting.
With 25 students in a class the planting works best with small groups of 2 - 4 students.

Here's my sign for the garden that will link to the project progress.

Sign with QR Code link to the project photos

This garden is outside the school building: factors affecting growth will include wildlife and passersby. The earth too I notice is mostly a deep layer of leaf mulch and may need additional digging. I will monitor the project over the next few weeks. The classes will set up a watering schedule.

I also plant some seedlings at home and bring to school to show germination and also in case we need to replant.

After a week or two the seedlings in the tray are growing and I transplant them outdoors and give some away to another school. 
The Three or Four Sisters Garden needs weeding as the mugwort is growing too! And the seedlings need regular watering if it is not raining.

This Three or Four Sisters and Brothers Garden is a "legacy garden".  These First graders will come back as Second graders in the fall to observe the development of the garden over the fall, and hand it on to the new classes of incoming First graders.

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