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The Three Sisters

July Update

The Oaxacan green dent corn is waist-high, the beans are climbing their respective trellises and the squash plants are getting bigger every day. These productive summer crops are always an important part of the Seed Garden’s offerings because of the nourishment they provide year-round. Dry beans, winter squash, and dry corn store well in any pantry and provide a backbone of food security. For that we are always grateful. These three crops, known as the Three Sisters by the Native Americans, have traditionally been grown together as they grow at the same time of year and support each other’s growth. For more information about how to grow these crops and the traditions behind them, be sure to check out this article.

One unusual variety of winter squash that we are growing this year is the Styrian Naked Seeded Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo). This pumpkin, grown and improved in the Styrian region of Austria, is grown not for the flesh, but rather for the shelless seeds. Although the flesh is edible and can be used for animal feed or baking, it is the green seeds that are the prize. These nutritious seeds, with their thin skins, can be eaten raw or toasted and if you have enough, you can even press them for oil. These pumpkins are mostly green and orange and the fruits can be 12 to 15 pounds each. Make sure the pumpkins are fully ripe before opening them to gather the seeds. The seeds then need to be cleaned and set to dry on racks. Stirring them several times a day helps in the drying process.

The thin-skinned seeds inside the flesh

The Oaxacan green dent corn (Zea mays) is an ancient heirloom variety of grain corn that originates from the Zapotec people of Oaxaca--cultivated long before the arrival of the Europeans. Grain corn has a higher starch content and lower sugar content than sweet corn. The ears grow from seven to ten inches long and the dents in the corn become more pronounced as the kernels dry and the moisture escapes. The corn can be picked when the outer husks have dried and turned yellow. The ears then need to dry in the shade for an additional couple of weeks before being removed from the cob. At the Seed Garden, we often pull the husks back to allow the kernels to dry more easily. Once dried and removed from the cob, the corn can then be ground into flour to be used for tortillas, tamales or cornbread.

The variety of colors of the Oaxacan green dent corn.

Beans are always a topic of discussion when it comes to deciding what to plant each year as we grow several varieties. This year, one of the many beans we are growing is Eye of the Goat. Eye of the Goat (Phaseolus vulgaris) is an heirloom bean from Baja and Mexico with a tan body and curved brown stripes. This dry bean is an excellent bean as a pot bean as it keeps it shape in cooking and yet has a creamy, delicious flavor. It can be substituted for pinto beans, cranberry beans or black-eyed peas. These versatile beans can also be picked early and eaten as green beans, although we always let ours dry to save as seed.

Whether or not you are growing a Three Sisters Garden, it is always satisfying to grow food that can be stored for a later time and food that nourishes us as readily as these wonderful plants.


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