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Harvest time. October 28, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silnce Dogood here. It’s a mild October day, and normally I’d be sitting out on our back deck listening to the corn talk. (The farmers in front and in back of our little cottage here in the middle of nowhere, PA, grow corn, and once it gets tall and dries out, it “talks” with every slightest breeze.) Today, however, I’m hiding in the house.

That’s because the farmers are harvesting the corn behind the house. There’s a terrible noise, and every few minutes a rhino-like, John-Deere-green creature passes in front of our deck doors, bellowing and presumably cutting down corn. This of course isn’t corn on the cob, it’s dried corn and cornstalks to make silage and sustain their milk cows through the winter.

I wonder what our poor chickens make of all this. This will be their first winter, and they love the dried corn in their scratch grains, but I doubt that they’re loving the racket that machine is making. People always tell you that country living is quiet and peaceful, but apparently they forget about the machines.

It’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about a move. Not to mention all the toxic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and so on. There are plenty of upsides—we have lots of great deck-sitting days—but downsides too. Days we see toxic bubbles from farm chemicals in our stream and wonder if our well water is drinkable. Days we can’t breathe outside because of chemical application. How wonderful to live surrounded by organic farms!

‘Til next time,



Frozen vegetables are frozen vegetables. October 21, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. If you walk down the freezer aisle in your preferred grocery and look at the vegetable options, there are almost as many choices as n the toothpaste aisle. No longer do you only have plain frozen vegetables and that horrid mix of peas, corn and diced carrots. There are lots of vegetable mixes, lots of frozen veggies in buttery sauces (those Green Giant people are no fools), and lots of boil-in-bag and steam-in-bag options.

But what if you just want a particular veggie, without sauce, and can’t find it frozen as is, but can find it frozen in a boil-in-bag or steam-in-bag version? Can you just open the bag and treat the contents as if it came from a regular frozen package?

I think we’ve all heard by now that nutritionists agree that frozen veggies are really good for you, better than fresh veggies picked out of season and shipped green, like, say, winter tomates. Frozen veggies are picked at the very peak of ripeness and flash-frozen to retain their nutrients. (Admittedly, I’ve never seen a bag of frozen tomatoes, but jarred tomatoes are wonderful for you, since they concentrate the protective, antioxidant-rich lycopenes in ripe tomatoes.)

I have no microwave, nor do I want to boil anything in a plastic bag and then eat it—aaaggghhh!—but one of the staples I love keeping on hand for cooking is frozen white shoepeg corn. The season for fresh white corn is so short, and I love sauteeing it to add to a meal, adding it to corn pudding at the holidays, and tossing it into chili. But I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to find a bag of frozen white corn, much less white shoepeg corn, in this area. What I can find, however, are bags of frozen white shoepeg “boil-in-bag” and “steam-in-bag” corn. And in my experience, the’re every bit as good added to a dish or sauteed as plain old frozen shoepeg corn could ever be.

So if you like boiling your veggies in a bag or cooking them in a bag in the microwave, I have no doubt that both methods work fine. But if you’re a traditional cook who simply needs to stock up on frozen staples you can’t find, don’t fear the boil-in, steam-in veggies. They’ll work wonderfully for you as well. Just keep away from the ones in sauces.

‘Til next time,


What’s the difference between bisque and chowder? September 25, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been thinking that a warm, inviting corn chowder would make the perfect “farewell to summer” dish, creamy and corny as it is. I had an idea for the ingredients, since I wanted the soup to be rich and gorgeous but not bland. But before I actually made it, I wanted to check what other people were putting in their corn chowders. And somewhere in my search, I encountered corn bisque.

Bisque! Even if we’ve never had it, I imagine most of us have heard of lobster bisque, that elegant dish from a bygone age. (I can picture it being served with great pomp and style on the Titanic.) I’ve never eaten it, but I remember smelling it, with its delicate aromas of lobster, cognac (or sherry) and cream. Mmmmm!!!

But corn bisque? When is a creamy corn soup a bisque and not a chowder? Turns out, when the ingredients are pureed into a single smooth, silky consistency. Chowder, on the other hand, features chunks of its ingredients in a creamy base. Needless to say, it was considered the workingman’s version, since it took a lot more trouble to create a puree in those days without a food processor, immersion blender, or blender. It all had to be done by hand. And that perfect, silky-smooth texture didn’t come cheap. Especially when the crustaceans’ shells (I’m afraid so) were incorporated into the bisque, as was traditional. Eeeeewwww!!!

Well, give me the chowder any day. But I intend to try to compensate for the pureeing with canned creamed corn. See what you think of my recipe:

Silence’s Creamy Corn Chowder

2 (14.75 oz.) cans creamed corn
1 package frozen white corn kernels, or two large ears white corn, kernels cut off cobs
1 pint light cream
1 box veggie stock (aka broth), any brand
1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), diced
1 8-ounce box whole button mushrooms, minced
3 red new potatoes, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
4 tablespoons salted butter
salt and pepper to taste

To make the chowder, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, such as a Dutch oven. (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens for soups.) Saute the onion with the salt and pepper until it clarifies, then add the mushrooms, cooking until they release their juices. Add the new potatoes, cooking until softened and glistening, then the bell pepper pieces, then the fresh or frozen corn kernels. (If the veggies start to stick to the pan during cooking, add a splash of veggie stock/broth as needed.) When the veggies are aromatic and soft, add the cans of creamed corn and slowly pour in the light cream. Stir to combine and check the thickness; add veggie stock/broth as needed to thin out to the consistency you want. Heat through and serve.

As you can see, this is all about the corn, creamy, fresh, or frozen. I’m not, for once, even adding herbs or spices to distract from corn’s delicate flavor. You could add a pinch of basil, or a pinch of garam masala, or a pinch of ground fenugreek, or even a very small splash of white wine, sherry, sherry vinegar, or the like. But I’d recommend starting with the basic recipe and modifying it later if you thought it needed something. The flavor’s delicate but rich, like a good chowder should be, and it’s thick enough to hold its own as a meal with a hearty salad and a hot loaf of multigrain bread.

Goodbye, summer!

‘Til next time,


The great taco debate. April 29, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Continuing our run-up to Cinco de Mayo here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, let’s talk about taco shells. You wouldn’t think that taco shells could be a cause for controversy, but taco lovers tend to find themselves on one side of two great divides: Hard or soft? White or yellow? Which sides are you on?

For me, both issues are clear-cut. If I want a soft shell, I’ll eat a burrito or a quesadilla. If I’m eating refried beans with all the fixings (more on this tomorrow), I want crispy-crackly taco shells. And I want them made out of white corn. (Mind you, I don’t eat a taco the way most people do, with all the stuff shoved inside the clamshell-like taco shell, which will inevitably break up and/or explode when someone bites it, spewing food everywhere. Eeeeeewwwww!!!! Instead, I crack my hot taco shells in half and use them as scoops, or layer ingredients on top. Works like a charm as long as you keep that half-taco over your plate!)

White corn wins for me every time over the heavy, bitter yellow-corn alternative. The delicate, luscious flavor of white-corn taco shells and tortilla chips enhances everything they’re eaten with rather than overpowering it, and there’s no bitter, oily aftertaste.

Of course, I come from the South, where yellow corn has traditionally been regarded as a field crop (i.e. winter food for horses and cows), while the milder white corn was the food of the people. In the North, however, yellow corn is king, its superior nutritional content often cited.

I’ll never forget my shock when I first moved to scenic PA and was offered “cornbread,” a yellow, soggy, heavy, bitter conglomeration that had been sweetened (!!!) to offset the bitterness. Where was the light, luscious, crusty cornbread that I loved, a savory, not a sweet, split and topped with melting butter? Who would call this yellow stuff cornbread, much less pass additional sweeteners like syrup and molasses to drown it in more sogginess and sugar?! Yikes. Ditto for yellow corn-on-the-cob versus the likes of ‘Silver Queen’ and its more modern descendants.

I hate the supersweet corn/candy corn era accordingly. I don’t want my corn to taste like candy, I want it to taste like corn. Like good, luscious, aromatic corn, a vegetable, a savory dish. Not bitter. Not sweet. Just corn.

I was beginning to despair that I’d lost the opportunity forever when it came to taco shells. The trend in light, airy, delicious white-corn tortilla chips seemed to be on the rise, with Tostitos introducing its cantina-style super-light white corn chips. But the Old El Paso white corn taco shells, the only ones I’d ever been able to find, suddenly vanished from local market shelves. Now, there were hard yellow taco shells and soft white corn and white flour taco shells, as well as soft yellow taco shells. I scoured the shelves desperately, month after month. Where had my crisp white taco shells gone?!

Finally, last week I found some at a nearby Giant. I was tempted to buy their entire stock, in case they, too, were planning to discontinue them, but controlled myself and only bought two packages, more than enough to get me and our friend Ben through this Cinco de Mayo. But the second they’re gone, believe me, I’m rushing back. Please, Old El Paso, please keep them coming! As the license plates used to say, you have a friend in Pennsylvania.

‘Til next time,


Corn off the cob. September 15, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. As fresh-corn season draws to its close (sob!), you may be experiencing corn-on-the-cob fatigue. I myself could eat fresh ‘Silver Queen’ corn until the end of time, but I do have a problem with corn on the cob: the mess. It seems that every time I pick up a luscious, dripping, buttery, hot, salty ear of corn, part of that melted butter ends up on my shirt.

Eeeewww!!! Try as I might, I have to wash the poor tee-shirt or blouse or whatever multiple times to get the grease out, and of course, meanwhile I can’t wear it. Talk about aggravating!

So I often make corn off the cob. Yes, it’s every bit as drippy-delicious as corn on the cob, but somehow it doesn’t get all over my clothes. Maybe that’s because our friend Ben and I like to eat it over rice, which nicely absorbs the drippings. Or maybe it’s because you can pick up the plate and hold it under your chin while eating, as a shield. (Trust me, I’ve tried eating corn on the cob while wearing an apron over my clothes, and the butter went through the apron as well as my shirt. Grrrr!!!)

The simplest version of corn off the cob is simply to melt butter in a heavy saucepan, cut the kernels off the cobs, and saute just until the kernels are heated through—a matter of a few minutes—then season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Next simplest is to saute a diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) in the butter, and when the onion clarifies, add the corn kernels and proceed as above.

Both of these are delicious, but for whatever reason, once I get the kernels off the cob, I like to go further. Sometimes I’ll saute the onion and sliced mushrooms in butter, then add diced yellow or orange bell pepper, and finish with the corn. Along with the salt and pepper, I’ll often add fresh basil, cilantro, or a mix of dried oregano, thyme, and basil.

Another, heartier option, which, served with rice or pasta makes a meal in itself (accompanied, of course, by a yummy salad and/or broccoli or asparagus) is the version I made last night. I used extra-virgin olive oil as the base, sauteed a large diced sweet onion, then added two medium diced yellow bell peppers from our garden, a can of red kidney beans, a can of black beans, and finally the corn on the cob. I tossed in the salt, pepper, and dried herb mix, and the minute the corn was heated through, served it up over rice with a big side salad. Yum!!! And it all was so easy to make.

Don’t forget that there are plenty of other ways to use fresh corn off the cob. You can add the fresh kernels to cornbread or corn muffins. You can fold them into corn pudding, a down-home name for a lovely, delicious, souffle-like dish. You can make succotash with fresh lima beans (I like the big limas, called butterbeans in my native Nashville) and diced sweet onion. You can mix any of the corn sautee variations I list above with rice and use them as a stuffed pepper filling. And you can make luscious creamed corn soup, or add the corn to almost any soup, or make corn fritters, or corn relish, or corn salsa, or…

Okay, point made. Mess dealt with. Corn still enjoyed. Go for it!

‘Til next time,


Creamy corn chowder. June 22, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. In yesterday’s post, “Salads of the Seventies” (check it out via our search bar at upper right), I mentioned my favorite Seventies cookbook, Vegetarian Gothic (Mo Willett, 1975). So it seemed only right that I share a recipe from this Hippie-era classic, and what could be more fitting for summer than a delicious chowder made with fresh corn?

If you’re skeptical that a recipe that arose from a bunch of Hippies running a tiny restaurant called Krishna’s Kitchen—which had nothing to do with Indian cuisine—could possibly be delicious, who could blame you? This was, after all, the era of brown, heavy, deadeningly bland “health food.” It brings to mind visions of earnest vegetarians soaking dried soybeans, boiling them, and eating them plain (or, desperately trying to add some flavor, with a dash of soy sauce). Eeewwww!!!

But as you’ll see, this simple recipe is miles away from soy-sprout sandwiches and the like. And it’s super-easy to make:

               Corn Chowder

4 cups fresh corn

1 large onion

2 green peppers

6 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic

1/3 cup butter

Chop the onion and green peppers and saute until lightly browned. In a large pot combine the onion, green pepper, milk, corn, and cream. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the spices and butter and simmer until ready to eat.

I’d of course use a large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) and yellow or orange bell peppers in this soup for a sweeter flavor. (I don’t think yellow, orange or red bell peppers were available when Vegetarian Gothic was written, since only green peppers are used in the book; lucky us to have more options. It appears to have predated the arrival of tofu on our shores as well. But I digress.) And I’d saute them in butter in the heavy Dutch oven I’d use to make the soup, and until the onion clarified rather than browning. For a richer flavor, I’d add the fresh corn and seasonings at that point and saute them for a few minutes as well before cranking the heat way down and adding the milk and cream. And of course I’d add more salt and pepper! Maybe a teensy touch of garam masala for a subtle lift instead of the “powdered garlic.”

Because this is a cream soup, I’d think it would carry well into the colder months, too, substituting frozen white corn (or a mix of white and yellow) for fresh-from-the-cob. But if you use frozen corn, I’d think it would be essential to saute it until it thaws and the water has a chance to evaporate before adding the milk and cream. 

For summer, though, I’d say this chowder would make a great lunch, served up hot and accompanied by the simplest side salad of Bibb and Romaine lettuces with wedges of ripe tomato, fresh basil leaves, good olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and lemon pepper or cracked black pepper. Yum!!!

              ‘Til next time,




What to eat with corn? May 15, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. We get all kinds of reader searches here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, which our host, WordPress, gives us the opportunity to see. In the past few days, we’ve had a few doozies: “greensleeves syphilis,” “can you eat unpollinated zucchini,” “sir richard’s almanac,” “what is college?” and the ever-popular “raccoon vinegar” among them. (Zucchini questioners, here’s your answer: An unpollinated zucchini is a squash blossom, and yes, they’re considered delicacies, whether dipped in raw egg white and fried or stuffed and baked. But you won’t get an actual zucchini unless that flower is pollinated!)

Sometimes we get a question that kind of tugs at my heart strings, though. One that came in a couple of days ago was “What goes well with corn on the cob?” Being Southern born and bred, the thought that anyone would need to even ask made me feel sad. I was tempted to answer “Everything!” but of course that isn’t true. (I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer not to eat corn on the cob with my pizza, spaghetti or curry, thanks just the same.) The short answer, butter and salt, is true, but I don’t think our reader was wondering what to put on his corn on the cob, but rather what to serve with it. So, dear reader, here are some favorite things to eat with corn on the cob. I envy you the experience of tasting them together for the first time!

* Barbecued anything: chicken, pork, beef, you name it. This includes all barbecue-related foods, including ribs, Buffalo wings, and Sloppy Joes.

* Fried chicken. Probably the most classic way to eat corn on the cob is with fried chicken, cole slaw, and sliced ripe tomatoes, with huge glasses of iced tea and slices of chilled cantaloupe (muskmelon) or watermelon for dessert. Yum!

* Hamburgers. Think retro cookout, with Dad in his apron at the charcoal grill.

* Cole slaw. That’s just “slaw” to us Southerners. The essential companion not just to fried chicken and corn but to barbecue of all types and stripes.

* Beans. Green beans and lima beans both go perfectly as side dishes with corn on the cob. Yellow wax beans do, too, but unless you’re eating white corn—the only kind worth eating, just FYI—you won’t get much color contrast. We solve that problem by mixing yellow wax beans and green beans. Add a rich red sliced tomato and you have not just a beautiful color medley but a meal!

* Tomatoes. Like corn on the cob, tomatoes are an essential summer food. Make a simple but beautiful Caprese salad of sliced ripe tomatoes (all red or mix red, orange, yellow, and green-ripe for a specially gorgeous presentation), fanned out on Romaine lettuce leaves with slices of fresh mozzarella and big fresh basil leaves separating the halved tomato slices. Top with a pinch of salt (we like Real Salt) and a drizzle of olive oil, serve with hot buttered corn on the cob, and you’re good to go!

* Summer squash. Summer squash is another essential summer staple. I’ll often boil sliced yellow crookneck or straightneck squash with sliced onions ’til tender, then drain and toss with butter, salt, and black pepper or a little oregano or basil. It’s a simple but flavorful side dish that goes with lots of summer fare. But my favorite way to serve summer squash and corn is to cut the corn off the cob and add it to a squash casserole. Yum! (See my earlier post, “Super summer squash recipes,” for that recipe and others.) While I’m talking about corn off the cob, I should note that here in PA, fresh corn pie, traditionally served topped with hot milk, is an Amish specialty.

* Shish kebabs. While you’re grilling your shish kebabs, add some corn on the cob to the grill. Eat them together for a wonderful pairing.

*Fajitas. Same as above.

* Stuffed peppers. Whether you enjoy the classic version with ground beef or a vegetarian version (we love peppers stuffed with cooked rice and lentils, sauteed onions and herbs, and maybe a little shredded mozzarella mixed into the stuffing before it’s topped with tomato sauce), corn on the cob is a great side dish. Add a crunchy salad and you have a perfect weeknight dinner!

* Fresh salsa. No, I’m not suggesting that you smear salsa on your corn on the cob! (Though you can add corn, cut off the cob, please, to black bean salsa.) But the flavors of fresh salsa—the chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, and lemon or lime juice—are just perfect with corn on the cob. Top baked chicken breasts with salsa or make a salsa-topped taco salad and enjoy your corn on the cob alongside. (Note: Eating corn chips with salsa and corn on the cob is double dipping.)

There are so many other ways to enjoy corn on the cob, too. What are yours?

          ‘Til next time,


Plant a Three Sisters garden. January 16, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Want to grow something fun this year? Our friend Ben gets a kick out of theme gardens, and the beauty of a vegetable theme garden is that you can try a new theme every year. You don’t even need three sisters to grow this particular theme garden, because the “Three Sisters” referred to in the title are plants: corn, beans, and squash, the staples of Native American food gardening in what would eventually become the United States. It’s thanks to the Native Americans’ sharing their crops and cooking and growing techniques that the early Colonists were able to survive here, and the reason why corn and pumpkins (which are actually a type of winter squash) remain harvest-season decorations, symbolizing bounty and thankfulness, to this day.

If you grew up in the U.S., you doubtless learned the story of how the Native Americans taught the early settlers to grow corn by “planting” a fish in the bottom of each hill before sowing the corn. As the nitrogen-hungry corn grew, the decaying fish provided fertilizer. While our friend Ben wouldn’t recommend dumping dead fish all over the garden (unless—eeewww—you happen to live near a fish-processing plant where the offal is free for the taking), especially if you don’t like the idea of every carnivorous critter for miles around making a beeline to your backyard to dig it all back up, there’s no doubt that the First Americans were on to something.

Corn is wind-pollinated, so it needs to be planted in blocks or clumps to get good pollination, which results in full ears (an unpollinated kernel doesn’t develop, which is why you sometimes get those flat, “blank” spaces in your corn cobs). A lonely row or two just won’t do the trick. The Native Americans got around this by planting corn in “hills”—or, more accurately, around hills, with spaces between each hill. (Just think: the first New World crop circles!) But they didn’t let the space go to waste (or weeds). Instead, they grew pole beans up the tall corn stalks and long-vining squash in the center of each hill. The squash, which, as you know if you’ve ever grown pumpkins or another vining squash, takes up a lot of ground, could enjoy the fish fertilizer under its roots and would keep down weeds with its rampant, ground-eating growth. And the beans would not only have their own cornstalk trellises for greater productivity and easier harvesting, they’d fix nitrogen to add fertility back to the soil. It was a win-win design all ’round.

So why don’t we still grow corn, beans, and squash this way? One word: efficiency. You can get higher yields with solid blocks of a single crop, and tight rows yield better than hills. Our modern tillers make it easier to turn large plots of land, whereas if you’re tilling by hand, the hill system means you only need to prepare the area you’re planting. Also, these days, most home gardeners grow sweet corn, bush snap beans, and bush summer squash (including zucchini), which are harvested considerably earlier than the long-keeping dried corn (including the colorful “Indian” corn, flour corn, and popcorn), dried beans, and winter squash and pumpkins of old. 

 Obviously, you could still plant a modern-day version of a Three Sisters garden, with blocks of sweet corn at either end of a bed oriented East-West, or at the North end of a bed oriented North-South, and alternating blocks of bush beans and bush summer squash between (E-W) or in front (N-S) of the corn. To maximize the space, you could grow a cold-tolerant crop like spinach, leaf lettuce, or arugula and harvest it before planting your modern Sisters, then, after you harvest your corn, squash, and beans and till in or compost the plants, replant the bed with a second crop of greens. 

But our friend Ben thinks that the whole point of a theme garden is that it should be fun, decorative, and educational. If I’m going to plant a Three Sisters garden, I want to grow heirloom varieties in the traditional way. Maybe I’ll just get a few dozen ears of corn, a bag or two of beans, and a half-dozen squash or pumpkins. But I’ll have a fascinating experience, and whatever I harvest can be used for Harvest Home decor throughout September, October, and November, then stored and eaten. That works for me! I’ll still grow my beloved bush beans and summer squash in my raised beds, and buy sweet corn and supplemental beans and squash at my local CSA and farmers’ markets. This is a different thing, more like growing a bed of ornamental annuals with an edible bonus.

Want to try it yourself? These crops all need full sun, so reserve a sunny part of your garden just for them. These are warm-season crops—corn seed will actually rot in wet, cold soil—so wait to plant until at least two weeks past your last predicted frost, when the soil has warmed to between 55 and 65 degrees F. Once you’ve prepared your plot or bed, our friend Ben suggests making hills with ample shovelfuls of compost and/or well-rotted manure, or a generous application of balanced organic fertilizer. We’re not talking about trivial hills here, either—you want a circle 4 or 5 feet across. Pile several inches of soil back over the compost or fertilizer, making a mound or “hill.” If you want to grow several hills, perhaps showcasing different varieties in each, space hills 3 to 4 feet apart and mulch between them.

Now, time to plant. Sow squash or pumpkin seed 1 to 2 inches deep in the center of your hill, 2 seeds per hill. (Tip: Soaking squash seed in compost tea for 15 minutes before planting will help prevent disease.) Plant your corn seed 1/2 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart around the perimeter of the hill. Once the corn germinates and grows 3 to 4 inches tall, you can thin it to a foot apart. Then sow bean seeds around each corn stalk, planting them 1 to 2 inches deep; thin to one plant per corn stalk once they’ve emerged and are growing strongly. Make sure your Three Sisters receive an inch of water from rain or irrigation each week while they’re growing. Remember that corn and squash are hungry crops, so side-dress them with compost, kelp meal, or balanced organic fertilizer and/or spray the foliage of your corn and squash plants with compost tea or liquid seaweed once a month while they’re growing and the crop is maturing. Once corn and squash are mature, stop fertilizing and cut back on the water so your crops can cure, i.e., dry down for harvest.

As noted, our friend Ben would hate to waste all this effort on ordinary garden-variety crops. If I’m going to plant a Three Sisters garden with a Native American theme, I’d like to grow some colorful Native American crops in it. Here are just some of the options: ‘Hopi Blue’, ‘Hopi Pink Flour’, ‘Hopi Chinmark’, ‘Anasazi’, ‘Taos Pueblo Blue’, ‘Parching Lavender Mandan’, ‘Parching Red Mandan’, ‘Supai’, ‘Oaxacan Green’, ‘Black Aztec’, ‘Dakota Black Popcorn’, ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’, ‘Seneca Mini Indian’, ‘Escondida Blue’ corn. ‘Hopi Pale Grey’, ‘Seminole Pumpkin’, ‘Hopi Cushaw’, ‘Tohono O’odham “Ha:I”‘,  ‘Taos’, ‘Navajo Hubbard’, ‘Pacheco Pumpkin’, ‘Pipian from Tuxpan’, ‘Silver Edged’ winter squash and pumpkins. ‘Chaco Canyon’, ‘Scarlet Runner’, ‘White Dwarf Aztec’ runner, ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’, ‘Tarahumara Dark Purple’, ‘Hopi Yellow’ lima, ‘Christmas Pole Lima’ bean. Go for color and history, I say! You can find these heirlooms and many others at seed sources like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com), Native Seeds/SEARCH (www.nativeseeds.org), and Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org).

Want to make your Three Sisters garden even more fun for kids? Reserve a corner and grow a bean teepee. “Plant” stripped, unbranched saplings or tall, sturdy bamboo poles in a circle, teepee-fashion, leaving a foot between each pole and a 3-foot opening in front for a “door.” Tie the poles together at the top or use one of the plastic circles with pre-punched holes that makes creating a teepee-style trellis easier. Then plant ornamental bean vines up each pole.

Here are some of our friend Ben’s top choices for a bean teepee: ‘Scarlet Runner’ beans produce gorgeous scarlet sweet-pea-type blossoms and edible beans, and one runner bean, ‘Painted Lady’, has bicolored red-and-white flowers. ‘Christmas Lima’ has gorgeous red-and-white lima beans, but the plant itself is not as decorative as a runner bean, so if you grow them, you might mix in one or two for the “bean factor.”

Or go for the gorgeous and plant purple-flowered hyacinth beans (Lablab purpureus, aka Dolichos lablab), which also have purplish leaves and stunning bright purple pods. ‘Moonshadow’ is a classic cultivar. You can tell the kids that Thomas Jefferson grew hyacinth beans in his garden at Monticello! (Don’t eat this one, though. While young pods are considered edible, older pods and mature beans may be poisonous. Better safe than sorry!)

Another option: Give the kids the thrill of a lifetime and plant some yard-long beans. ‘Chinese Red Noodle’, ‘Taiwan Black Seeded’, and ‘Red-Seeded Asparagus’ are just three of the amazingly long-podded (up to 3 feet, as their name implies) varieties to choose from, and ‘Chinese Red Noodle’ has brilliant red pods! The tender pods are great when stir-fried.

What to plant around your teepee? How about some colorful native New World flowers like nasturtiums, zinnias, marigolds, nicotiana, petunias, and/or dwarf sunflowers? These cheerful annuals will enjoy the full-sun conditions every bit as much as your beans, even if the kids need to take some shade breaks inside the teepee. Since some of the older nasturtium varieties are vining, you can even grow them up the poles with your beans for a doubly colorful effect, along with those other native Americans, morning glories. Don’t forget that you can harvest nasturtium buds, leaves, and flowers for salads, too, if you can bring yourself to reduce the floral show!