Sowing Three Sisters formation in Basin’s Backyard Garden

During the crop planning meeting Basin’s Backyard Garden volunteers held in April, “gardening with the three sisters” came up.

Deb Levchak, Basin Electric retiree and former senior counsel, wanted to give the three sisters formation a try.

As found on the NDSU Extension Service website and elsewhere online, according to Iroquois legend, the Three Sisters are believed to be the gift from the sun god, who created corn, beans and squash to keep the first people of the earth healthy. The Three Sisters were planted together in a circular mound garden, reflecting the never-ending cycle of nature. Each mound was 3 feet in diameter and had 4 to 6 corn plants in the middle. The beans provided nitrogen for the soil. The corn provided a stalk the bean plants could climb. The pumpkins’ leaves shaded the ground to keep weeds from sprouting.

Three Sisters Formation gardening

Lori Frisk-Thompson, Basin Electric regional transmission organization market specialist II, planting the beans and squash for the Three Sisters formation.

So, following the three sisters formation (detailed on the Penn State Extension website), corn was planted back in May when the rest of the garden was planted.

When the corn grows to about four inches tall, you can plant the beans and squash.

In Basin’s Backyard Garden, the corn is a little taller than that by now, but garden volunteers went ahead with the plan.

Last night, volunteers did a bunch of weeding, and finished out the three sisters formation. Because the formation requires making a bunch of holes for seeds, rather than dragging a rake down a line and dropping in seeds, planting took longer than expected. But we’re excited to see how this turns out!

Three Sisters gardening

Grace Baker, Basin Electric media distribution coordinator, tackling weeds.

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Crops committee crafts garden map

A committee of gardeners mapped out where the crops will be planted during the 2015 Basin’s Backyard Garden season. To see a list of voted-on-and-approved crops, visit the previous blog post.

Check out the map below. If you click on it, it’ll expand the image so you can read the labels. We’re using the website Smart Gardener to map our garden. It’s a powerful tool, and can document much more detail than we probably need. It can keep track of where and what you planted in your garden for future years, keeps track of specific varieties, tells you when you should plant based on your location, etc. It was fun to try out, and maybe we’ll get really good at using it for future gardens.

Stay tuned for a future blog post explaining the “three sisters” method of planting we’ll do for the corn, beans and squash.

You’ll notice one of the squares says “flower variety.” This is something new. Because of our expansion and “three sisters” method, we have some extra room. We thought we’d plant some interesting veggies (eggplant, celery), but decided to add a splash of color. We’re planning to plant annuals here, primarily for cutting. We thought maybe when we do our donations, we could include a little bouquet sometimes as well.

Big cheers to the gardeners who helped out with this: Sheila Renner, Deb Levchak, Andrew Brown and Lindsey DeKrey.

A map showing the areas crops will be planted this year.

Advice for pruning tomatoes

Basin's Backyard Garden

The garden on August 18, 2014.

The tomatoes in Basin’s Backyard Garden went from tiny little cuties to massive crazy monsters in seemingly no time at all. (See them at Sheila’s feet in this post: Basin’s Backyard Garden on KFYR-TV tonight)

Several volunteers have suggested we prune the tomatoes so that the garden isn’t completely overrun with tomatoes.

After web searches, this seems to be the simplest advice found – remove all branches below the lowest branch bearing fruit.

If you want a little more detail, check out these articles:
How to prune a tomato

Care of your tomato plants

How to harvest and preserve herbs

The herbs in our garden are ready for harvesting. The trick with herbs is that you need to keep harvesting them if you want them to keep producing. Once they go to seed, they’re just not good anymore.

Some of our employees requested tutorials on what to do with herbs. Let us know in the comments if you have other thoughts and suggestions.

This post shows different methods for drying different types of herbs.

How to harvest leaf lettuce

eHow leaf lettuceWe are a ways out from harvesting our lettuce. But it doesn’t hurt to have a little know-how before the time comes!

From eHow: How to harvest lettuce leaves
Leaf lettuce produces clusters of loose leaves instead of the tight heads typical of head lettuce varieties, such as iceberg and buttercrisp types. The leaves do not surround a dense heart, so you don’t have to harvest the whole plant at once. Harvesting instead takes place over the course of several weeks or months, which allows the lettuce to continue growing and producing for a longer time than head lettuce varieties.

Instructions
1. Cut off the outer leaves when they are at least 2 inches long. Remove the leaves at the base of the plant but leave the inner foliage in place to continue producing.

2. Harvest the outer leaves every three to five days during the growing season. Picking the lettuce more frequently may prevent the plant from producing more foliage.

3. Harvest the entire plant before it begins to flower, usually when the average daytime temperature reaches 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut off the plant at its base, harvesting all the leaves at once.

eHow also has another article on how to harvest lettuce so the leaves keep growing. Most interesting point: Do not tear leaves; cut them instead. Read the article for why.