Tomatoes are self-pollinating, meaning they have both male and female parts within one flower. Pollination results when bees get into the flower and vibrate (a sort of pollination dance). Wind can also create a similar vibration, while gardeners can also pollinate tomato plants with their hands or a toothbrush.
The Incas and Aztecs, who first found the delicious and juicy fruit growing wild in the Andean region of South America – in what we now know as Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile – started cultivating tomatoes around 700 A.D. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced tomatoes to Europe. By the 18th century, tomatoes had made their way to North America, where they were further domesticated and used in various cuisines.
At first, consumers in the modern world were afraid to eat tomatoes, because they thought the plants – related to some toxic members of the Nightshade family – were poisonous. Early tomatoes were smaller and acidic. With time, though, cross breeding has resulted in tomato varieties with better taste, appearance, maturity rate, and productivity. The Garden grows three different delicious heirloom varieties of tomatoes in the summer.
Plants that like to grow together are called companion plants, and a Three Sisters Garden is a perfect example of the concept. In a Three Sisters Garden, corn, squash, and beans each perform a certain function that together create ideal growing conditions for all three of them to thrive. Squash provides ground cover, which protects the soil and keeps it cool and moist during the hot summer days. Corn provides support for the beans, which use the corn as their main support. Beans also fix nitrogen, which helps both the squash and corn to grow strong and healthy.
The legend of the Three Sisters tells of siblings who lived together and were inseparable. The first sister, represented by squash, was young and barely able to walk, so she would mostly crawl. The middle sister, represented by beans, looked up to the oldest and would hang on to her for support. The oldest and tallest, represented by corn, looked after her younger sisters. One night a young boy came into the garden and took the younger sisters away. Devastated and sad, the oldest sister stayed alone in the garden and wilted. The young boy heard her cry and went to harvest the corn as well. As the boy carried her inside, the corn saw her two younger sisters, and realized they had been harvested and would be together again until fall. The details vary a bit depending on the tribe of indigenous people telling the story, but they all share a similar message. Even with differences, we can support each other and continue to grow.
Once you master growing a Three Sisters Garden, there are other companion plants to experiment with, such as tomatoes and basil, carrots and onions, cabbage and spinach, and more.