Thursday, 16 June 2011

Not the Three Sisters...

... not the traditional corn/climbing beans/squash polyculture, but a wilder and woolier version with slightly more obstreperous contenders. The Three Hooligans might be a more accurate name for what I have in mind.
Infant hooligans on planting out day (25th May)
'Hooligan 1' is Yacon,  Fiorella,  a Czech-bred quick maturing variety which I grew last year. I can confirm that it does indeed get a move on, and makes tubers long before standard Yacon. Each plant is liable to reach 8ft high by 9ft wide by the end of the season, and produce 10 to 15 pounds of edible tubers.

'Hooligan 2' is the Hog Peanut or Talet (Amphicarpaea bracteata). I don't have any previous experience of growing this, but it's reputation as a rampant reprobate proceeds it. I'm looking forward to trying the beans which form below ground. Thanks to Rhizowen for the seed, who was also thoughtful enough to provide the required specific inoculant to permit nitrogen fixing on the plant's roots.

'Hooligan 3' is admittedly a corn, as in The Three Sisters system, but this is Hopi Blue — a robust and highly variable variety, displaying diverse foliage colour, number of tillers, and ultimate height. It's usually described as growing to about 2 m but I think that must be in its arid homeland, as I have experience of it growing to more like 3m. Almost certainly there are different strains, which also might explain this difference.

But for a successful polyculture, it's as much about how you plant as what you plant. Here's a view showing the planting layout...

That's a 5 ft wide bed. Hopi Blue are more widely spaced than usual to admit light to the Yacon which are planted on the centre of the bed at 4 ft spacing. Hog peanuts are between the Yacon, and should climb to the light. You'll also notice a couple of rows of onions in there. They were planted back in March and could be a mistake, but they were a bargain and you never know, if they get a move on they could form an extra output.

A couple of weeks later the plants have settled in...
... and are still well-behaved, but for how long?


27/9/11 Corn ripening. Flowers on the yacon are a sure sign that tubers are forming below ground. And...
... the hog peanuts are producing their tiny delicate flowers.

16/10/11. The corn is harvested...
...and the corn plants removed. The yacon are about 8ft high and steadily flowering.
More updates later.


  1. I love being adventurous and growing unusual things on my plot. Your post is right up my street!

  2. I better try Fiorella - do you know anything about where and by whom it was bred?

    As talet is specifically grown with corn, I'm not surprised its doing well.