14 November 2012

The De-o-ha-ko In Debdale

The gradual absorption into the gardening fraternity continues: I have begun an organic vegetable gardening course.


I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now here's something I came across last week.

The course is in Debdale Ecocentre. The leader, my new gardening crush, Marva, began by showing us round the raised beds and poly tunnels of the centre. She explained normally the crops would have been harvested by now but she had been keeeping them back to show us what the centre grew. So in the poly tunnels were rich displays of tomatoes (still green), vibrant salad leaves, an overwintering wormery (got to get myself one of those), and neat beds demonstrating companion planting. Outside the ground was barer but there were still little leeks, beetroots, turnips, and a bed with the Three Sisters growing in it.

The Three Sisters? These are corn, beans and squash all grown close together. The beans twine themselves up the corn and the squash covers the ground. This system of three plants is an amazingly efficient example of companion planting. The corn supports the bean plants, which in turn fix nitrogen in the ground for the benefit of the corn, and the wide leaves of the squash act as a mulch to suppress weeds and keep in moisture. Not only that but eaten together they make up a complete protein meal.

The name ‘The Three Sisters’ was given to this scheme by Native Americans. We generally think of them as bison hunting warriors but forget they existed for many thousands of years by growing crops. The Navajo and Cherokee farmed at the same time as they were chasing John Wayne. The staple crops of corn, beans and squash were so important to them they wove them into their creation myth.

“The term “Three Sisters” emerged from the Iroquois creation myth. It was said that the earth began when “Sky Woman” who lived in the upper world peered through a hole in the sky and fell through to an endless sea. The animals saw her coming, so they took the soil from the bottom of the sea and spread it onto the back of a giant turtle to provide a safe place for her to land. This “Turtle Island” is now what we call North America.

Sky woman had become pregnant before she fell. When she landed, she gave birth to a daughter. When the daughter grew into a young woman, she also became pregnant (by the West wind). She died while giving birth to twin boys. Sky Woman buried her daughter in the “new earth.” From her grave grew three sacred plants—corn, beans, and squash. These plants provided food for her sons, and later, for all of humanity. These special gifts ensured the survival of the Iroquois people.”

The sisters were seen as protective spirits and called De-o-ha-ko, (pronounced Jo- hay- ko) "our supporters."

Now this is the kind of information that motivates me to grow veg. Forget utopian sustainability nonsense. A pinch of science, ancient history, and a story that involves a turtle. That'll keep me in the fraternity - or should that be sisterhood?

Source of story