Cornfield Beans

jimster(z7a MA)October 13, 2008

When using corn stalks to support pole beans, how important is it that the beans are especially well adapted to that way of growing. There is Genuine Cornfield and other such varieties which are adapted to cornfield growing, but how well will other pole bean varieties work?

I'm starting to think seriously about doing a three sisters garden next year. It would be nice if I could grow my usual assortment of pole bean varieties without worrying over whether they were suited to that purpose. But I don't know if that's a good idea.

I expect to plant the corn hills on about 4 foot centers, so there should be adequate light penetration. Are there other concerns I should know about regarding beans in a three sisters configuration?

I'm gathering corn information on the Vegetable Growing forum. There's no need to go into the corn aspect here, unless you want to.


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Back in the 40's and 50's, grew Kentucky Wonder,Missouri Wonder. Lazy Wife, and Cutshorts in field corn ( 42 inch spacing both ways) Did ok. Yield not quite as good as a dedicated bean patch but acceptable. Have not tried the more exotic types of pole beans in corn.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 8:32AM
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Because of the weather(rainy) this year I ended up only doing a 2 sisters garden(Corn & Squash). It worked out that I couldn't get my beans in the ground on time because it was just to wet, so next year I will be doing a true 3 sisters.

Since the corn/beans will be surround later in the season by squash and I do not want to step on the squash vines. I will be planting these dry beans: genuine cornfield and Hidatsa Shield Figure. The corn will be Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored popcorn and the squash Waltham and some buttercup.

I might change the corn/bean configuration a bit from hills to mini blocks/rows of 3. The amount of sun the beans will receive is quite a bit so they should grow well.

I was surprised how well the squash did block out most of the weeds. I tilled around the squash until it got to big and then it did the rest of weeding for me pretty much by covering the ground.


    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 11:31AM
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Some beans are more shade sensitive than others. Perhaps you can name your favorites and someone here might have tried them on corn.


    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 1:59PM
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cabrita(9b SoCal)

I grew purple peacock pole, yellow pole wax and Kentucky wonder pole beans around corn. They all seemed to know what to do and used the corn as support, without any need to train them. I also used sunflowers, same thing. I got lots of beans for sure, it might be the nearby little field of flowering mint (I had LOTS of bees in the mint flowers). I plant after the corn is about 1 to 1 1/2 foot tall to give it a head start. Now I have some Oregon sugar snaps (#2?) around corn (if they survived) but they are still too little to climb.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 7:36PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

The following is moved from another thread also titled Cornfield Beans.

Posted by riley17 5 (My Page) on
Thu, Oct 16, 08 at 12:20

Hi, i was reading the post earlier about growing beans in the three sisters and i think i want to try it for next year. Does anyone have any cornfield beans they would be willing to share with me? You can check out my trade list to see if i have anything you want in return. : )

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 1:28PM
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The only thing that I can add is that you want a good strong corn stalk to hold up the beans. Something like Hickory King would be a good choice.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 5:12AM
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I grew Romano pole on Hickory King this year and everything was great and the beans were really starting to produce heavily when the corn blew over in a windstorm due to being too tall for the load. HK without beans on them stayed up.

I plan to use a much shorter corn next year for bean production.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 1:02PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Wind is definitely a consideration. This year and last my top heavy pole beans were blown over when we had strong winds. Strong winds at some point when the poles or corn are loaded up is probably inevitable.

The three sisters method, at least in some descriptions, calls for hilling up earth around the base of the corn plants after they get started. Any experience with that? Does it help?


    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 2:55PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Jimster, I don't know what corn(s) you plan on using, but even the most vigorous corn can be overrun by a high-climbing pole bean. As mentioned previously, the increased wind load on the corn increases the chances of severe lodging. That is especially true for sweet corn, which tends to have shorter, weaker stalks.

You might want to consider searching for "half-runner" pole beans, since their runners are fairly weak, and the majority of the yield is borne within a couple feet of the ground. I've found several of them in recent years, and am considering trying them on corn myself.

But then... having observed the semi-vining habit of your "Pink Eye Purple Hull" cowpeas, I wonder if they also would perform well as a cornfield bean. Could be interesting to try it out.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 7:16PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

If I do the 3 sisters planting, I would like to do it in as traditional way as possible. No sweet corn will be used. My interest is in replicating the methods of the Native Americans, on the premise that if it worked for them, it will work for me.

It would be nice to have varieties that actually were used by Native Americans. My thinking is evolving on this. At first, authentic varieties didn't seem necessary to me. Now it's starting to matter. Best of all would be varieties which are not only authentic but authentic to this region. Two corn varieties of interest are White Cap Flint and Improved King Philipp. (More about White Cap Flint in the thread, Corn for Meal & Grits 2.)

So, the corn will be large growing field corn of some type. I spent some time reading about half runners. I concluded that would not make efficient use of the 3 sisters configuration. I think pole beans are what I need. It presents somewhat of a dilemma regarding wind, but I think there is an answer to that. Still thinking.

Know of any ancient Native American coastal New England pole beans?


    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 11:45PM
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Seed Savers Exchange (see their web site) actually sells seed to a cutshort which was carried over on the Mayflower and passed on down through some of those families. Of course, to be carried over on the Mayflower, they had to have, first, been collected over here, and grown back in the "old country" for a while. I don't know how that one does on corn. But it might do alright.

Hilling the corn makes a definite difference in giving it wind resistance. I wouldn't think of growing corn, at least not here, without hilling it.

Also, variety makes a difference. When we moved to OK back in 2005 I contacted Glenn & Linda Drowns, at Sandhill Preservation Center to ask about what corn I could grow here, since we have lots of wind at times. My criteria were:

1) Doesn't have to be sweet.
2) Should be good for meal and grits.
3) RESISTANT to lodging.

They responded by telling me that I might consider either:

1) Glenn Beasley Red
2)Blue Clarage
3) Mesquakie Indian

I chose Mesquakie Indian. Anyway. It is resistant to lodging. Still, I do occasionally have some blow over. But so far, it has never blown over flat and still produces.

This year was my first to try Cherokee Striped Cornhill bean. It is definitely a cornfield bean! Yet it has very strong vines. Look at the picture. It eventually pulled the corn stalks down to just under 4'. Still, production was prodigious! I don't know if this one will always pull the stalks down. It could be something I did. It's growing on Mesquakie Indian corn, which has strong stalks.

Timing is key to growing beans successfully on corn. If one starts them before the corn is big enough, the beans can overwhelm the corn and hinder it from growing. If planted too late on the corn, the corn will out compete the beans. I usually plant the beans on my corn, right after I hill the corn. This is usually when the corn is about 15" tall. I hill the corn and then plant beans in the hill.

Back in the 80s I grew Kanawake Mohawk, a native NY bean. I imagine it was grown on corn. But I don't know that for sure. Vines were not tremendously vigorous, and I didn't care for the snaps (though that could just be me). Anyone who likes Stimpsons would probably like Kanawake Mohawk. Back then Stimpsons had quite a following in New England, and I didn't care for it either.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2008 at 7:35AM
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planting your corn far enough apart is another critical measure for growing 3 sisters. The absolute minimum is 2 feet and you will get better production if stalks are 2.5 feet apart in rows at least 3 feet apart. My personal preference if growing squash, beans, and corn is to plant the corn rows first with rows 4 feet apart and corn plants 2.5 feet apart in the row. I plant 3 corn seed per hill to make sure I get one strong plant. When the corn is between 1 and 2 feet tall, plant 2 pumpkin/squash seed beside one corn stalk and then plant 2 or 3 beans beside the next 2 corn stalks in the row. Repeat this pattern of 2 stalks beans to 1 stalk pumpkin/squash all the way to the end of the row. The rows on each side of the row with the pumpkin/squash are planted with beans on each stalk. This results in good ground cover by the squash but not excessive which leads to squash climbing up on top of the corn and beans.

Here are some varieties I use:

Hickory King
Old Hominy White
Franklin White
These are all very strong stalk tall corns that make a crop with minimal effort. All of them require hilling up at least 6 inches on the stalks.

Blue Marbutt
Turkey Craw (dry bean, leather britches)
I once tried some Rattlesnake beans on corn. Never again. The above varieties are moderate growers and medium to high producers.

Long Pie
Southern Miner
Sugar Pie
You can grow pumpkins like Connecticut Field, but they are usually too vigorous. Of the above, Long Pie is just about perfect for 3 sisters.


    Bookmark   October 19, 2008 at 2:12AM
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I should add, in case of misunderstanding, that Cherokee Striped Cornhill only pulled stalks down well after I had harvested the corn and the stalks were dry. What is shown in the above picture is basically what I've seen countless times, in cornfields out in the Sierra Madre, only both the corn and bean varieties are adapted to this latitude, not the 20th.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2008 at 7:43AM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Thanks so much Farmerdilla, Zeedman, Pat, Darrel, George, Rodger (on other threads) and anyone I left out, for all the helpful info. It would have taken me years to learn all of that by trial and error, if I ever did. I probably won't get everything right immediately, but at least you've set me off on the right track. Now to reread the threads and mull it all over. That's what winter is for, right?

Don't hesitate to keep posting if you come up with more good stuff.


    Bookmark   October 19, 2008 at 5:05PM
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Here is one more option for anyone wanting corn as a priority and beans on the corn, more as a novelty. I often plant my corn in rows about 3 1/2' apart and only about 10-12" apart in the rows. That's too close for cornfield beans to grow, at least in the center of the patch. But they do quite will on the edges, especially the West and South. That's how I grew Cherokee Striped Cornhill bean, this year. It did great this way. I only wanted to try the bean and multiply seed.


    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 10:57AM
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bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

I grew corn with beans and squash last year and had both really good and not so great results. I did plant everything too close, but it worked in one case. I grow in 4 wide raised beds. I planted the corn one per square foot, with a bean, and African Winter Squash on one end of the plot and Delicata squash on the other. My best results were with the Afrikanische Rote bean (an African cornfield bean) from SSE and Cochita Pueblo popcorn from Sand Hill Preservation Center. The corn supported the beans very well, the beans grew like crazy and I had great production from both the corn and beans. As expected, the corn/bean combination on the outside edge of the plot did better. As Cochita Pueblo grows as multiple stalks from one plant, it seems to support the beans really well.

My second combination was Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored popcorn and Hidatsa Shield Figure bean. The popcorn did not produce as well as the Cochita Pueblo, but that may have been a pollination problem. The stalks seemed strong enough for the beans, but the Hidatsa beans had a very hard time climbing up the stalks and the end result was very few beans.

I wove the squash threw through the corn as it grew. At first this was fine, but later it became too shady and the squash escaped out into my paths. I still had great production from the squash. The Delicata was very well behaved, but the African Winter squash took off across the garden with very long vines. It was interesting tip-toeing through squash and sweet potato vines (did I mention that I plant too close together? :) )


    Bookmark   December 22, 2008 at 11:04AM
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Bellatrix, overall it sounds like you had a very productive garden, and in my book, an attractive one as well!


    Bookmark   December 23, 2008 at 7:27AM
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bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

Thanks, George! With all my strange heirlooms, I think it is rather pretty and definitely productive (if crowded :) )

I did find one picture of the plot. Unfortunately it is of the PA Dutch Butter flavored side, with just a little bit of the Cochita Pueblo. If you look at the bottom of the picture, you can see where the squash and sweet potatoes meet (ignore the weeds). There should be a two foot path there.


    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 12:21AM
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Certainly looks like good use of space. Makes it hard for weeds to get ahead, which, I believe is one of the rationals behind this type of planting scheme.


    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 2:56PM
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rdback(Z6 VA)

Hi folks.

Macmex said: "Some beans are more shade sensitive than others."

I'm looking for a shade tolerant pole bean. I have a spot that only gets 4-6 hrs of PM sun, and was hoping to grow beans/cowpeas there. I tried IWK there last year and it was a complete bust. I've read that "cornfield" beans tend to be shade tolerant, so I was wondering if they might work. Any thoughts, ideas, comments, recommendations, etc?

Thanks -- Rick

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 10:00AM
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Well, you could try it. Just don't try to grow them on corn too! Here's a link to Sustainable Mountain Agriculture. They have quite a few cornfield beans. I suspect any of the the beans mentioned above would work.


Here is a link that might be useful: Sustainable Mountain Agriculture/ Tender podded beans

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 8:24AM
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