Should You Plant on Mounds in Sandy Soil?

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Calen asks about planting on mounds in fast-draining, sandy soil:

“I’m a native Cracker from [coastal Florida]. I’ve been homesteading on ancestral farmland with a survivalist and traditionalist mindset for three years now. All heirloom and organic, etc. I own all of your books, and they, along with your blog and videos, have been the most helpful gardening advice that I’ve ever found anywhere. Last year I grew tons of Seminole pumpkins with great success using your “melon pits.” I passed that along to many friends who did likewise. I also plant the pumpkins in many “guerrilla gardens” in the swamp and backwoods on public land, and that’s worked out great as well. I never revisit them until harvest time, and they normally do better than my tended ones. Anyways, this year I want to give the three sisters a try. My plan is to use Jimmy Red corn, Cherokee black pole beans, and Seminole pumpkins. Pretty much everything I read says to plant on mounds. However, my place is high, dry, east-bank-of-Lake George sugar sand. Is mounding the way I should go? We didn’t even have standing water during the past two hurricanes. My thought was to maybe do these in slight pits like the melons and pumpkins but wanted to see if you had any advice on the subject? Thanks for your time.”

Fantastic. It’s good to hear from a fellow Floridian.

Mounds are what you always hear about. It’s even on the back of the seed packets. Calen is right to question the practice in his soil conditions.

For people who haven’t planted in “sugar sand,” it’s hard to explain how very hot, dry, and fast-draining the stuff is. It contains almost no humus and needier crops planted in sugar sand need almost constant watering.

Scrubland Sandy Soil

My old homestead in North Florida had large patches of almost sandy loam with smaller granules which would hold water for longer. There, I would double-dig and loosen the ground to plant, which would mound it up somewhat.

GardensFebruary2015-5

Those loose raised beds did very well, so it would be easy to say, “Oh yes, Calen, go ahead and plant in mounds—it works in Florida!”

But sugar sand isn’t the same as the soil above. Just because something works in one area of a state doesn’t mean it will work in another. And in his area, I would try to stay as flat as possible.

When you raise the height of the soil in one area, the water will drain out of it faster as it finds its level. You really can’t afford to let that happen. If he’s not holding onto water even after a hurricane, raised beds and mounds, unless amended with extra compost before every planting, are not the way to go.

You might want to go even further and grow in sunken beds, as is sometimes done in the Southwestern U.S.

Even across my old homestead, the backyard was loamy and the front yard was sandier.

This is how I used to plant melons and pumpkins in my fast-draining front yard:

Melon Pit

Those are sprouting legumes, by the way. In the winter I would plant melon pits with cool-season legumes like lentils, chickpeas, peas, and fava beans to feed the soil and pave the way for the curcurbits I planted in the spring.

Read More: “No Bare Soil! Vegetable Garden Cover Crops”

I would try planting in sunken beds, Calen, and see how it works. If you really want to see if it makes a difference, plant one area flat, one area in sunken beds, and one area on mounds, then compare how they did over the season. That would be a really good way to gain a bunch of data from one growing season.

I planted corn in flat ground when I had a sandy area:

Corn in Sandy Soil

And on mounds in clay:

Planting-on-mounds-1

You’re right to think outside the mound, and you get serious extra points for guerilla gardening Seminole pumpkins. The melon pit method is one of my favorite discoveries.

If you’re reading this and don’t know what Calen is talking about, here’s how to make a melon pit:

In sand, dig deeper and go for an indentation instead of a mound.

What about you? Have you had success planting on mounds in sandy soil? What about with using melon pits? Let me know in the comments below!

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The post Should You Plant on Mounds in Sandy Soil? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Our New Three Sisters Garden. Hugelkultur.

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This season we are trying a slightly new garden method, just to see if it works. This will be our three sisters garden, corn, beans & squash. This method of making a garden bed is known as Hugelkultur .

I will be making a video of this later when the crops are up, but right now this is as far as I have got. I dug a trench first & filled it with garden refuge, cut grass & weeds, heavier tree trimmings on top of that, some old garden edging logs that we have replaced, then the soil on top. I did add some chook manure before adding the soil to help break down the refuse.
When I started mounding the earth, I soon realised that I was not going to have enough soil to cover the highest logs. I did not want to bring more soil from elsewhere or use our compost that we needed for our other garden beds, so I removed two of the top logs.

The two pumpkins are volunteers from last year.

The Three Sisters: How To Garden The ‘Native American Way’

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The Three Sisters: How To Garden The ‘Native American Way’How many of us have sisters we can truly count on? One or more who will be by our side rain or shine? You may be wondering how sisters and gardening go together, but it seems they always have for Native Americans. The ancient method called Three Sisters gardening is a proven method for healthy bounty and successful vegetable growing. You can grow three vegetables – corn, beans and squash – in an efficient and earth-friendly way. It’s the method the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims, and it’s the method that thousands of people still use each spring.

A Little Bit of History

Three sisters gardening provides a healthy diet and long-term fertility of garden soil. It was a system of gardening that native people perfected before the first European stepped onto the New World. Native people grew a wide selection of plants which often were drought-resistant and adaptable. Gardens were more of a small field or clearing. This would be big enough to grow produce for seeds the next year, as well as for food. Seeds would be gathered and stored, and it has been recorded by the early settlers how the native people would store ground maize to use during the winter.

They looked for signs in nature as to when to begin planting. For example, when the Canadian geese returned or the Dogwood tree’s leaves were the size of a squirrel’s ear, the soil was warm enough to plant seeds. They grew variations of today’s Three Sister gardens. Maize was the common corn.

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At the beginning of the planting season, there would be ceremonies. A festival would be held for the harvesting of the first green corn on the cob. Men and women had specific roles in the garden.

So, why do corn, squash and beans get planted together in this type of garden?

Traditionally, the native people viewed the Three Sisters — corn, squash, and beans — as a gift from the gods. These three vegetables were important both physically and spiritually to every tribe. There were several different tribes, with their own variations of the story behind the three sisters, leading to different methods of gardening. In every one, however, each plant had a significant role. Scientifically, these three plants nutritionally complement each other. Corn has the carbs, beans have the protein and squash has vitamins and oils. Corn provides a pole for the beans to climb and in turn, bean vines stabilize the corn stalks and also provide nitrogen in the soil for the corn. Squash plants are prickly enough to deter predators. Squash also acts as a ground-covering mulch and prevents weeds from growing. Squash also helps the soil retain moisture. All leftovers can be put back into the soil at the end of the season.

Planting Your Own Three Sisters Garden

Planting a Three Sisters garden is slightly different than the common garden style we know of today. Find an area with a minimum space of 10 X 10 square feet. This ensures good corn pollination. The site needs to be in the sun. Plants will need six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Put compost or manure in the soil — or fish, if you truly want to follow native methods.

You can sow seeds once the night temperatures are about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This usually happens in middle to late spring to June.

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The Three Sisters: How To Garden The ‘Native American Way’

Image source: Plimoth.org

Include pole beans or runner beans, as well as squash or pumpkins (both have vines, rather than bush.)

How to Plant a Three Sisters Garden

There are many ways to plant a Three Sisters garden, but here is one:

  • Choose the type of corn, squash/pumpkin and bean to plant.
  • Make mounds for your beans and corn. The center of each mound should be five feet from the next mound’s center.
  • Mounds should be 18-24 inches across with flat tops. Plant the corn with four seeds in the center of a mound, and when the plants are about four inches tall, plant the squash and beans (at the same time).
  • Plant about four beans in a circle around each corn stalk. (Make sure you weed the ground before planting.)
  • Plant several squash seeds in a circle around the beans. Once the plants start growing, thin the mounds down to allow the stronger plants to grow.

Success for this garden depends on the spacing of seeds, timing of planting and the variety of crops. Do not plant too many seeds together or the vines will snarl into a mess and the corn will be smothered or crushed. Three Sisters gardening combines food, gardening, culture and history, making this gardening experience one-of-a-kind.

Have you ever planted a Three Sisters garden? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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