Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Three Sisters

A Diorama at the New York State Museum of an Iroquois Village Cultivating the Three Sisters (I found this picture on the New York State Museum website)

The Three Sisters: Except that Due to My Agricultural Language Barrier I Accidentally Bought Pea Seeds Instead of Pole Bean Seeds. Okay, okay, I should have been able to tell from the picture on the package, but . . . I was in a hurry.

The Diagram I Chose to Model My Mounds On (which I found on this NativeTech website)

Moonlighting in Its Most Literal Sense

(Relatively) warm weather broke out here in Shimokita over Golden Week and the old folks of Kazamaura began to till their gardens. Observing this I began to feel obligated to begin working on my own patch of earth that I borrowed from the junior high school. However, before guilt had a chance to spur me on to action, the landowners who rent the parcel of land to the school went over the whole thing with a tiller and formed tall and beautiful furrows. My self-assigned task was to demolish these furrows and replace them with mounds for planting my three-sister units. Now, the sun sets early in eastern Japan and these days I am kept at the junior high school until about half past six by which time it is dark. Consequently, my first attempt at making my mounds was in the dark.

That didn’t work out so well so the next morning I hopped out of bed at five o’clock (by which time it’s quite light at this time of year) and finished the job, redoing what I’d done the night before. I took a 120cm (4ft) piece of yarn with me and used it to cut a stick down to size. Then I folded the piece of yarn in half and marked the centre of the stick. Using the stick I measured out the 120cm spacing between the centre of my mounds and also marked the midway points between them. Then I stuck the stick into the centre marks and piled up the earth from the furrow on either side of the centre marks using a little spade that barely came up past my knees. Afterwards I flattened the tops of my little earth cones in order to form mounds about a foot (30cm) high and with flat tops about 20 inches (45cm) in diameter. I mention all this in painful detail because I haven’t been doing many artistic things lately and I am quite proud of my earth mounds.

That’s why I’m displaying them here in the context of the larger garden area . . .

. . . and here, more or less on their lonesome, and from a different angle . . .

. . . and here, from yet another, more imaginative angle, with the proud gardener contemplating his creation.

In fact, for good measure, here’s an aerial view of a single mound, with the corn seeds ready to be pushed 3~5cm into the soil. I was a little confused about the spacing here since some of my sources said to plant five or six seeds “in a small circle” while others, that I read after the fact, said to plant the said five or six seeds six inches apart from each other. It was probably a bit early to plant the corn anyway, and I have quite a few seeds left, so I’ll most likely just plant the leftovers a little later on, using the six inch spacing rule. Then I’ll weed out all the weaklings, leaving three or four of the sturdiest plants. Once they’ve grown to be about four to six inches tall, I’ll plant the pole beans (as opposed to the peas) and the squash six inches and eighteen inches, respectively, from the corn plants. Then I’ll take some more pictures.

My rationale for doing something so drastically different from the surrounding gardens was that it might spare my plants from unfavourable comparisons with larger, better plants cultivated by my more experienced neighbours. Unfortunately, my radically circular garden is already becoming an object of curiosity and/or critical attention and I have a couple of other problems to deal with. First, the soil of the junior high school plot is exhausted and of very poor quality and I don’t have enough compost or natural fertilizer with which to improve it (the school janitor has offered me chemical fertilizer but my whole point is to avoid that sort of thing). Secondly, the minimum optimal area for growing corn is 10m by 10m (for purposes of pollination) and, as the photos show, the plot of ground lent to me lacks breadth.