We have some seeds waiting in the wings sent by Doc Cawley. And as you can see, these seeds aren’t your usual seeds. There is an extremely rare Mohawk potato bean, and the bean that was carried over the “Trail of Tears” by the Cherokee and the Iroquois white flint corn that thrived in the Americas before Columbus. And, we also have the strawberry bean, an old red kidney bean and an old pinto bean.
Of course, these seeds are the beginnings of an authentic three sisters garden. The remaining sister is squash. And, we have been given the Seneca pumpkin which is also an 1000 year seed. We hope to generate more of these seeds for future plantings and to share them with other rare seed gardeners. A garden design comes again from Doc Cawley. Seen below is the garden found at in the Smithsonian on the National Mall in Washington DC.
“It is 100 paces around the central circle in which they have Indian corn and field peas and actually, for winter, lots of Brussels spouts.”
And From: The Wealth of Sight by Caroline J. Crain, 2014 (part of the Crain Collection of Books)
“For the past few years, I have been somewhat involved with the Seneca of the nearby Cornplanter Reservation. I have gained a remarkable amount of respect for some of their customs and celebrations. The tradition of the Three sisters garden is presently taught in their own language at the Seneca Faithkeepers School, run by Dar and Sandy Dowdy. At this school, young Seneca are taught the ceremonies and traditions of their native ancestors. The three sisters are symbolic of everyone helping everyone else, not only celebrating community closeness, but also the interconnecting of Community itself. This is done by creating a symbolic planting each year, and retelling of the ceremonial story, and the symbolism of each of the sisters. The oldest sister is the Tuscarora, or white corn. She stands tall, and as the eldest, watches over and gives support to her younger sisters. The middle sister is the bean, of which there are several varieties. The middle sister winds around and protects the corn. The bean plants also give nutrition to the soil of the garden. In the traditional three sisters garden, the youngest sister is the squash. With her large leaves and twining tendrils, she shades the other sisters, keeps the moisture in the soil, and discourages the weeds. Seneca squashes included summer types, such as yellow and green crooknecks and zucchini, winter types such as acorn, butternut, and Hubbard. And also Seneca pumpkins, which are often smooth-skinned and light colored. This whole ritual planting is to be done in May, as a community project, by getting as many people involved as possible. Traditionally, the garden is begun by having a community soil exchange.
This requests that everyone who comes is to bring a small basket of their own soil, along with a tag with their family name for the record. Records might be kept in the local library through each planting season. This exchange reminds us that, in the end, soil is our most valuable asset, and one which must be treasured and preserved.
All of the different collected soils are placed onto a sheet, mixed, and then put onto the garden. The three sisters are planted in a number of mounds (often seven) within a circle about 20 feet across. The circular plan of the garden is said to represent the sun, the source of life itself. The mounds are made for the corn seed, which is planted first. Then the bean and squash seeds are planted in the same mounds. Often, each separate mound will have a different kind of bean. The Indians taught the Pilgrims to plant a dead fish in each mound–and I would suggest that you fertilize your garden well before you plant, if dead fish are not available. The planting is followed by an evening pot-luck dinner, with a campfire, and should include lots of home-made corn bread. Around here, we say that the corn should be knee high by the 4th of July. The second ceremony of the garden includes the first community weeding of the garden, and the mounding up of the soil around each of the plants. This is known by the Seneca as the hoeing ceremony. This can be celebrated with another potluck dinner, based around homemade corn chowder. In August comes the Green Corn Festival, featuring fresh corn on the cob, along with the pot luck dinner. The other things that are served during this time is Green Corn Soup, and Summer Garden Stew. The last garden celebration occurs after the first frosts, or just about Halloween. This is the celebration of the Harvest. This is equivalent to our Thanksgiving. At this time, the dried corn and the dry pods of the beans are collected and stored away. Acorns are harvested and also stored. The feast of the Harvest. Often, in our area, the churches and fire halls would go all out for their public harvest dinners, to promote goodwill and sharing of community, which seems to often be lacking in small towns these days.”