Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Client: I've heard various local home gardeners talking about planting the “3 sisters” in their vegetable garden. I think they are discussing corn, beans, and squash. Why would I want to plant the 3 sisters?
MGCC Help Desk: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk regarding growing the “3 sisters.”
There are many variations on the 3 sisters garden, but the most traditional layout is something like this: several corn kernels planted in a circle, beans planted close to the corn, and then the squash planted in a wider circle around the inner plantings.
This layout works great for growing dry corn and dry beans. If, however, you'd like to grow sweet corn and snap beans, you should consider an alternative. When growing dry corn and beans, everything is ready for harvest at the same time. But, fresh corn and beans will be ready before squash. You're probably not going to want to carefully step around your pumpkins or watermelon every time you harvest beans or corn, and the squash leaves probably won't appreciate being stepped on either.
In the above situation, an alternate layout is best. Rows of corn with beans planted in between is a great variation, with the option to plant some squash along one side. This variation has the added benefit of increased pollination for the corn. If you have a good amount of space, beans, corn, and squash can be planted in linear plots and used for crop rotation. From left to right, plant squash, then corn, then beans. Each subsequent season, move each crop to the right, so the corn and squash can benefit from the nitrogen-fixed soil the beans grew in.
Companion planting can become a complex set of decisions. You will want to consider the variety of plants you wish to grow and then consider which do well together and which can exacerbate problems by, for example, attracting the same pests. Information regarding companion planting can be found at:
We wish you continued success with your gardening, especially growing the 3 sisters. Please do not hesitate to contact Master Gardeners again if you have further questions.
Help Desk of the Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (KR)
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round (except the last two weeks of December) to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925)646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/)/span>
Advice from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa
MGCC's Help Desk Response: Thank you for contacting Master Gardeners about your fava beans. And, thank you very much for sending the photo. It was very helpful.
I do not think that the fava beans was damaged by the frost. Frost damage generally appears on the tops of plants rather than the bottoms. Also, fava beans are generally hardy down to 21 degrees. Unless you are in a severe microclimate area, we have yet to see temperatures that low this winter.
Instead, I believe that the beans may have been affected by a fungal disease called Chocolate Spot (Botrytisfabae). Chocolate Spot has been found in fava beans in the northern San Joaquin Valley which is not far from us. Chocolate Spot begins with small red-brown lesions on leaves and stems which can expand and, in an aggressive form, can lead to necrosis (death) of leaves and stem tissue. The aggressive form occurs in high humidity situations, so, if this is the disease you are seeing, it could have come from the earlier rains. I noticed also from the picture that there is a lot of plant material (weeds?) around the fava bean patch which could have also raised or maintained a higher humidity level. It is also possible that this is from some other fungus, but in any case I would suggest hand weeding in the area to increase air circulation to the plants.
With the weeding, it may be possible to save the plants for this year. You have some flowers that would provide you with some beans to enjoy. However, if you are interested in a larger crop you may want to remove these plants now and replant in February or March. That is the planting time for growing fava beans as an edible (as opposed to cover) crop. In either case, once you are done with the plants, I recommend pulling them up and putting them in the commercial green bin for disposal rather than your compost pile. You should also avoid digging them into the soil, since that could cause the fungus to spread.
One other tip: You had mentioned and the photo shows that the plants had fallen over. I have found that to be a common problem with fava beans myself. I use my tomato cages in fava bean patches in my garden to help keep the plants upright.
For more information on fava beans, please see: http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/pubs/brochures/favabean/
While this link is farm-oriented, it has some good background information.
I hope this is helpful. Please let us know if you have further questions or would like more information.
Good luck with your favas!
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (ECS)
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/)./span>