If we think of traditional Native American crops, there are probably three which come straight to your mind. Squash, beans and corn are three famous Native American foods which are still staples in the nation’s food culture. Known as the Three Sisters ,these plants had specific spiritual roles with every part of each plant having its own deep meaning as well as its own part to play in healing.
Today, although there is no longer such reliance on these three crops, traditional cultivation techniques still come into play. Many people with a Native American background still find that planting a traditional garden helps them to recapture their connection to the Earth.
The Companion Planting Concept
A traditional Native American cultivation technique is that of Companion Planting . This is a technique which involves one plant helping another. Plants are grown together and work symbiotically – for example, using corn hills to support beans as they grow, with squash interplanted among them to minimize invasive weeds. The idea is based on harnessing nature as a tool. As a result, the land becomes richer.
Catering To The Micro-Climate
Another important cultivation technique which was traditionally seen in Native American gardens was fine-tuning to suit the micro-climate of the local area. Many gardeners today overlook this feature. Yet one type of seed won’t work in every garden. Traditionally, there was a strong focus on using seeds which were best suited to a particular type of soil and climate to avoid failed crops.
Using Traditional Planting Techniques
For anyone who wants to plant a Native American garden today, the key is to find sufficient amounts of suitable land. Unlike European gardens, traditional Native American gardens were at least a quarter of an acre in size with corn hills around three feet in diameter, space at four feet apart. This takes lots of space. Around each hill, pole beans can be grown in order to fix nitrogen levels in the surrounding soil – essential to successfully grow corn. Small leaved squash are then planted between the rows. To the edge of the field, Jerusalem artichokes and pumpkins can be planted.
Are These Techniques Relevant Today?
One problem today is that while the science and natural understanding of how crops grow, thrive and support each other that lies behind traditional Native American cultivation techniques is accurate, there is little ability for modern growers to take advantage of this knowledge. Few people these days have the space required to use these traditional techniques to their full advantage. So, what can be done, and how can traditional crops and techniques thrive in today’s busy and overcrowded environment?
A Modern Version
Native American tribes are now having to experiment with different cultivation techniques that fit more effectively into today’s modern world. One tribe which has successfully adopted a different way of doing things is the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana.
They have adopted a hydroponics growing system which only uses bees to pollinate their crops and nutrient water with no need for insecticides, pesticides or even soil. Their project has proven to be extremely successful.
The Coushatta tribe are proud to be the first ever tribe to operate and own hydroponic greenhouses for their own cultivational use. The vegetables that they grow taste just as good as any regularly grown produce but the growing method is better suited to today’s growing environment.
Yet the traditional methods are still surviving. Back in the day, tribes would often plant wildflowers to encourage pollinators into the vegetable gardens. Little has changed in the hydroponics greenhouse, with beehives being cleverly located to enable bees to do their natural work.
For tribes which are looking at the possibility of adjusting their traditional growing methods to match newer, more modern facilities, hydroponics could be the answer, especially when paired with LED grow lights. There are some outstanding examples of grow lights on the market today with either the Nova N300 or the Galaxyhydro being the top rated for indoor growing. By effectively taking plants through each stage of their growth, these grow lights allow traditional gardeners to grow their classic crops in a more contemporary and efficient way.
The way forward for Native American gardeners seems clear – a fusion of the modern and the traditional is the best way to preserve their culture and tradition while also achieving results.