This Thursday, we Americans will take a pause from our daily routine to gather with family and friends to observe a day of Thanksgiving. Early in our education, we all learned about the history of the holiday, beginning with the Pilgrims feasting with a New England tribe of Native Americans, who taught them how to survive in this unfamiliar land. After our feast, we will adjourn to a nearby television set to take part in a much more modern tradition – watching football.
I can’t help reflecting on a bit of horticulture history that has come full circle. It’s believed that the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to grow what they called the “three sisters.” The three sisters are three late season vegetables that are easily preserved through the winter. The three are corn (maize), winter squash and beans.
Corn grows tall, providing the beans with stalks to climb. Beans are legumes that return nitrogen to the soil to keep it fertile. Squash leaves creep along the ground, providing cover so the soil doesn’t erode away. The rough surface of the leaves and stems discourage foraging animals from harvesting the beans before the people can. And all of the produce can be preserved without refrigeration.
The modern twist on the three sisters? Today’s sustainable gardeners are planting corn, beans, and squash, except that they call it companion planting.
At their Thanksgiving dinners, many families serve corn (often the only vegetable young children will eat), beans (the ubiquitous green bean casserole) and squash. What a teaching moment!
On behalf of the Birchcrest Tree & Landscape family, I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.