Three Sisters and a Stranger

Reader Contribution by Connie Moore
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Sometimes I wonder about me. It seems the older I get, the less I see clearly. I’m talking about in my mind’s eye. There in draws a blank sometimes that’s a bit scary.

Take for instance the Three Sisters garden plot I planted this spring. In many cultures, three crops were and are planted together: corn, beans and squash. Corn provides the structure for the beans to climb; squash spreads over the ground, preventing weed growth, and large squash leaves act as a canopy to hold moisture in the soil; and the beans provide nitrogen, which is good for all three plants. Together the three crops provide complex carbohydrates, all essential amino acids, and other nutrients. It’s a win-win way to garden.

In our Three Sisters garden, pole beans went in first, climbing on strings, which were anchored around them and up through the 6-foot high bird feeder. Planted at the north and south points of our circular bed they neatly divided the space in half for buttercup squash and sweet corn. 

Then, in mid-July, green shoots starting coming up in the corn half. At first we thought it was just corn that dawdled around, waiting for more water or more sun. It grew much like the rest of the corn, perhaps not quite as fast but certainly the same thick, round stalk, the same long, thin leaves, and later, the same tight ear of…wait…that ear was coming out of the top of the plant.

What could it be? We watched and contemplated for days. By then my brain had registered a stranger in the garden. We took photos to examine it in closer range. We called relatives, only to be told it was probably sorghum. What? Sorghum was the means to molasses. We planted no seeds marked sorghum or molasses or sweet, tasty anything. Where did this stranger come from?

The answer was staring us in the face. The bird feeder had become obscured by masses of green. It wasn’t until the beans came down and the birds found the feeder, hoping for a crop of their own seeds, that birdseed came blasting into my brain cells.

We made a list of seeds that made up the winter bird feed. No sorghum, but as we looked each one up on the life-saving entity called Google, we stopped abruptly at a photo of our stranger. Milo (which was on our birdseed list) is by other businesses called sorghum or grain sorghum or sorghum bi-color. It is a grass grain.

The size of a BB and red, it is an inexpensive way to bulk up bags of birdseed for a bigger profit. No wonder we had such large crowds of doves, grackles, starlings, brown-headed cowbirds, juncos, cardinals and the occasional raccoon. 

To be sure, this particular type of sorghum is not the type that sorghum molasses is made from. It is growing much shorter than the photos of sorghum stalks being squished to extract the liquid from which sorghum molasses is boiled down.

We won’t be eating these plants in any shape or form. They are definitely for the birds. And that’s OK. As they enjoy their own crop, we’ll be enjoying a purchased bottle of sorghum. And squash, corn and beans!

Sorghum Butter


• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 2 tablespoons sorghum


In small bowl, using electric mixer, beat butter and sorghum together until light and fluffy. Serve on hot biscuits, pancakes, toast, waffles. Refrigerate leftovers.

Glazed Apples


• 3 cups thick-sliced tart, crisp apples
• 3 tablespoons butter
• ½ cup sorghum
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• Dash of nutmeg


In large skillet, cook apples in butter until just tender. Stir often and cook over low-medium heat. Stir in sorghum, spices, and if a thin sauce is desired, a tablespoon of water. Simmer until sauce is slightly thickened. These are good with pork dishes or over ice cream or hot oatmeal.

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