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On My Mind
June 2018

Growing Symbiotic Local Partnerships to Nurture Quality Pediatric Hospice Care in Rural RegionsCompanion Planting

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Pediatric Oncology, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska
  • 2Division of Pediatric Palliative Care, Hand in Hand, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska
JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(6):517-518. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.3910

My grandmother’s hands, worn and weathered, faithfully staked the soil for 3 “sister” plants each summer: corn, beans, and squash shared the same plot. Her time-tested approach to gardening negated the need for herbicides or pesticides. Nana talked of “the good citizenship” of various plants as she stood in the center of her circular garden plot, trusting botany’s giving and receiving interdependence. Nana honored the symbiotic agricultural approach of the Iroquois Indians as she researched each plant’s ability to draw beneficial insects, to add nutrients to the soil, and to foster prosperity of neighboring plants. The “Three Sisters” gardening approach ensures full plant potential in 1 botanical space. As the corn stalks grow, the trailing legume vines find support for beans to climb. These beans then fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, which allows the soil to better support the complex nutritional needs of corn. The giant, shady squash leaves provide generous ground cover to block weeds and hold moisture as the prickly squash stems deter animal invaders. Companion plants work together in support of each other and even to enhance tasty fruition. Nana’s caprese salad tickled our tongues each summer, as her tomato plants grew interspersed in a basil grove.