Three Sisters Woes Continue

by Daisy

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A while back I predicted abject failure from my Three Sisters planting of corn, pole beans, and squash. None of my dire predictions came true, but we still got trouble.

The plants themselves have grown well. The corn is tall and tasselling out. The beans are growing up the corn, and the pumpkins are taking over everything. BUT–as I have chronicled ad nauseum, squash bugs and borers have been the cause of constant futile measures and personal insult.

In addition, freak 70 mph winds toppled the corn the other day and my efforts to prop them up have met with mixed results.


Attempt at staking

Attempt at staking

After staking

After staking

If you have noticed all the aluminum foil on the ground and are wondering what’s up with that, I just have to sigh and mumble something hokey about squash borers. I don’t know what I’m doing. Just don’t be surprised if the next time I post a photo of this bed it features voodoo effigies of squash borers. Or, simply, no squash.

Lastly, there are the aphids, by the thousand, on the corn. Fortunately the ladybugs are hard at work on them, so I consider this the least of my worries.


What next?


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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

carol June 29, 2009 at 6:50 am

does diatomatious (sic?) earth (DE) work on those squash bugs?

Dave June 29, 2009 at 6:57 am

Squash vine borers and squash bugs are awful. The only really good organic control I know is to use row covers but that’s not real practical for 3 sisters gardening. Dipel may help control the borers and should be safe as an option.

Lindsay June 29, 2009 at 11:06 am

This is what I’m doing next year, found it at
Anything that needs to be staked, is going to be growing up through a horizontal (versus vertical) piece of fencing (probably whatever pieces I can find on the side ofthe road). You prop it up with PVC upside-down-Us. If you look at some of the pictures on the website, you can see it. He does it with everything tomatoes, corn, etc. I’m really excited. As it grows, you can add more fencing, or i’m thinking, I can just move the fencing, carefully, up the stalks by raising up the PVC. We’ll see how it works. Good luck with your squash borers and bugs. Glad your ladybugs are happy, i think my chickens ate all mine 🙁

Mirinda June 29, 2009 at 11:35 am

This is our 3rd year doing corn in a square foot garden and I think we are finally figuring it out. I have not tried the 3 sisters, but have found that a horizontal grid of chicken wire attached to the top of the box as the corn is starting to grow gives the corn the support it needs in shallow, loose soil. The corn grows right up through the fence and we have not had trouble, even with the extreme wind and rain we have had this year. Sorry, I don’t know how to add a photo or I would show you.

Love the blog, keep up the good work.

Water Damage Arizona June 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm

I really like the picture with the lady bug in it. You should really blow that up and hang it on a wall!

<3 Lindsay

becca June 29, 2009 at 3:37 pm

At least you don’t have earwigs in your corn. Those things gross me out! I’m taking a year off from corn and I feel great about it.

Tomato Lady June 29, 2009 at 5:10 pm

carol–I think it may have some effect. It is on my list of anti-squash bug tactics.

Lindsay–I will check that out. I definitely need more support. The twine isn’t doing the trick very well.
Sorry about your ladybugs. The chickens must have thought them quite a treat.

Trilby June 29, 2009 at 6:50 pm

This reminds me of something I ordered for my first garden many years ago: Toe-pepper-atoes. Yup, Potatoes, tomatoes and peppers all in one! Sort of….

What arrived were seeds for starting the tomato and pepper plants, plus some rings of starter potatoes, with instructions to grow seedlings and thread them through the potato rings and plant!

Jen June 29, 2009 at 8:25 pm

My corn was blown over once early this season (3 ft tall) Now again this past week by the largest thunder storm I’ve ever seen (4.5 feet tall). This is the second year my corn has been blown over and damaged. Last year I didn’t get any corn and It doens’t look good right now. I may try giant posts and chicken wire next year. Although I guess I can buy it at the grocery store but I want my own!
It’s actually starting to stand up on it’s own but I planted two varieties… probably too close to each other. Popcorn and a sweet corn. Maybe if they cross pollinate I’ll have kettle corn? 😛

Don June 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Ever think nature might be pruning off the weak plants? A survival of the fittest? I used to garden intensively. Now I really space out my plants. 95% of my problems have gone away and my plants stay healthy, even when attacked. You get more fruits per plant with less plants per square foot, so yield is nearly equal. That is, if you got the room. Good luck.

Tomato Lady June 29, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Good thoughts. I generally try to squeeze too much in.

Tomato Lady June 29, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Ha! I love it! Kettle corn indeed.
Sorry your corn has been KO’d too. I know what you mean. It just isn’t the same from the store.

Tomato Lady June 29, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Toe-pepper-atoes!! That’s fun to say, anyway! Did you grow them/it?

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Thank you, Lindsay! Maybe a calendar page?

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Dave–I know a lot of almost organic gardeners who revert to Sevin for the squash. I can’t blame them a bit.

Brown Thumb Mama June 30, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Ugh! Keep at it. I’m fighting an infestation of whiteflies on my green beans. Repeated sprays of water and 100+ degree temperature weather here have not discouraged them. Ptooey!

elaine June 30, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I am so woefully ignorant about gardening practices that I hesitate to even comment … but I’m going to dive in and hope everyone is nice 🙂

With regards to the bugs – I just read today on Kelly the Kitchen Kops blog about BRIX gardening. Don’t ask me to explain it – just go follow the link and read the article. (Be forewarned – it’s long but at least read to the point where the 2 farmers live next door to each other — one has locusts the other doesn’t) It is very interesting and in addition to eliminating the bugs – the article had my mouth watering over how delicious the produce sounded (if you read far enough you’ll find the part about cantelopes, mmmm). Maybe this will help? Good luck!

Thanks for all the great info in your blog – I love it!!

Linda Stahr June 30, 2009 at 7:33 pm

So last year our corn was blown over… twice. Rather than feed it to the hogs – which we were sorely tempted to do, we decided to let nature take its course. The first time, it stood back up on its own. The second time, we fed it to the hogs. There were some really good ears though that the chickens went chick-wild over… and I think I got maybe 1/3 of an ear for myself… we didn’t do corn this year.

Lynda June 30, 2009 at 10:03 pm

A pox! A pox, I say, on all squash bugs, borers, and aphids!

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Brown Thumb Mama–Yuck! Poor green beans! Those whiteflies must be atomic.

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 11:07 pm

elaine– You’ve got me interested, I’ll check it out!
Thanks! I need all the help I can get!

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Linda–Oh, dear. If if isn’t one thing it’s the other. It’s times like these I’m glad I’m not a farmer.

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Lynda–You tell ’em!!

Rebecca July 2, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Would it be breaking organic garden rules to spray the aphids and around the base of the plants with a 1-4 mixture of dish soap and water (in that order)? This worked very well on the aphids on my azaleas. I hadn’t been paying attention to them and they had gotten quite ill before I noticed the bugs. The bloom and greenery exploded after I sprayed a couple of times every other day.

Tomato Lady July 3, 2009 at 7:45 am

Hi, Rebecca! Soap is fine in organic gardening. Sounds like you have a formula that works great for you and your azaleas!

Khadija July 7, 2009 at 8:49 am

Are you sure it’s a ladybug? I thought ladybugs are not suppossed to have symetrical spots? There’s a pest which resembles ladybugs but has symetrical spots. I think you took a photo of the pest.

Young squash beetle?

Tomato Lady July 8, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Khadija–Really? I’ll have to check that out. They can be sneaky.
The squash beetle in this reference looks more yellow:
What do you think?
The bug I photo’d was feeding on aphids, so I hope it’s okay . . .

Stephanie July 9, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Ha! I just read about using foil around the plants about a week ago. Seriously considered it, but never did get around to it. After two years of almost complete loss squash bugs and borers we are finally having a year that they are under control. Knock on wood! 🙂 Not sure exactly what the fix was but I am enjoying it!

Tomato Lady July 9, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Stephanie–I don’t think you missed anything. The foil doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect. I still have some squash but not much. Glad you are having a good year!

gremlina August 12, 2009 at 12:39 pm

We struggle with squash randomly every year. One thing we did this year was Escar-go! from Garden’s Alive. It seemed to have prevented borers as well…It’s natural & worth a shot! & our 3 sisters have never really worked. This year it all looked great with 8 foot corn, beans growing higher & higher, but it all quit. The corn was miniature at best…not sure it’s worth the effort when we can get 3 ears for $1 at the local Farmer’s Market. Sadly, there aren’t many heirloom varieties available there though…

Tomato Lady August 12, 2009 at 5:31 pm

gremlina–Hm. I’ll have to give that a try. I’ll do anything if it kills borers.
I think I’m with you on the 3 sisters. They were practically giving corn away this year everywhere I went. People were showing up with bags of it in their trunk to share. True, it’s not heirloom or organic, but it isn’t three inches long, either, like mine was, *sigh*.

Laurie August 30, 2009 at 7:10 pm

We had the same problems this year with our 3 sisters garden. I had really high hopes for it…We have also recently had racoons eating the corn that is there and I think it was on its way to a decent size. I did find though that some of the beans grew a little too well and were taking over the slower growing corn – which I wasnt expecting. I do agree that is a lot of work when you can get fresh corn everywhere, but there’s just something about doing it yourself.

Tomato Lady August 31, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Laurie–Yes, I may try it again some day, when I forget what a disaster this was. Maybe with no freak winds. . .

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