Editor’s Note: The Quackers are three awesome ducks — Rusty, Richard and Sydney — from the canals of Venice who are on a mission to educate the community about the dangers of global warming and the importance of practicing sustainability, all while surfing the most gnarly waves possible.

Richard had worked long and hard perfecting this year’s garden design. It was the largest he had ever planned. Thinking about some of the new additions he included this year, sugar snap peas and honeydew melon made our mouths water. He talked of nothing else for the last week. I bet if we blindfolded him, stuck him in the middle of the garden plot and pointed him north, he would still be able to point out the placement of every seed and plant.

Planning for everything, he knew what tools he needed, how many stakes and even how much string. Dividing the plot into thirds, he assigned one to each of us and explained in detail how each plot would look when completed. He estimated a week of hard work would get it done. That and teamwork. 

The time came for action. All was a go. The team was ready and in place. At least we thought we were. For the first hour we worked like crazy. Then our energy flagged. We dragged through the rest of the day. It was as if someone drained our batteries.

That night we talked and talked, desperately trying to figure out what went wrong and how to get back on track. There was work to be done. It was Rusty who figured it out. It all traced back to missing our morning surfing session. Call it our cup of coffee, call it our breakfast of champions, apparently that early morning commune with nature was what we needed to jump start our day.

As the sun rose the next morning, we were already paddling out to catch a few waves. When we started work this time, we would really be ready to go. It worked so well we had to force ourselves to stop for lunch.

After we ate, Richard surprised me with six chili pepper seedlings. Knowing my love of chili, Cousin Juanita had sent Richard the seeds all the way from Albuquerque. My very own chili plants, yum. I can taste the possibilities.

In addition to the chili seeds, Juanita had sent along another handful of seeds for Richard to try. She said they were from her “Three Sisters Garden.” 

Three sisters? He rang up Juanita for an explanation.

Juanita was eager to share.

“It’s a traditional Native American garden that has been grown for over 10,000 years,” she said. “It is corn, beans and squash. Did you know that when they are eaten together they provide a nutritionally perfect meal?”

Apparently the seeds are planted in a special way that creates the perfect ecological balance for the seeds and the soil. This crop was so important for survival that a story about three sisters was created to ensure the knowledge was passed on from generation to generation.

Richard listened intently as Juanita continued.

“Do you remember old Aunt K’ema from Taos? She shared the story and helped me plant my first Three Sisters Garden when I was just a kid. Aunt K’ema said the story can be told in many different ways, but it always starts with three beautiful sisters.”

She told it this way. Three beautiful sisters grew up together as children. The eldest sister grew straight and tall.  She wore a pale green shawl and had yellow hair that blew in the breeze. The second sister was younger and could only crawl at first and clung to her bigger sister. The third and youngest sister wore a green skirt with a bright yellow blouse. She had a way of running off by herself but was always there for her sisters. When they grew up, they moved to separate fields. Living apart was hard and they missed each other dreadfully so they decided to move back together. Together, they once again flourished and vowed never again to separate.

“When Aunt K’ema showed me how to plant the garden, she said the eldest sister (corn) should be planted first in the center of a tall mound of earth,” Juanita explained. “When she has grown about 6 inches, her sister (beans) should be planted in a circle around the edge of the mound. After waiting a week, the third sister (squash) should be planted at the edge of the mound, about a foot away from the beans.  The first sister will grow tall and strong and support her younger sister as she climbs, and the smallest sister will help shade the earth, so all three will not grow thirsty as they grow.”

With a few changes, we were able to make room to plant our first Three Sisters Garden. Like the three sisters, we worked together as we made the mounds and planted the corn.  Soon we would be honoring a 10,000-year-old tradition as we brought the three sisters together once more.

• To see a representation of a Three Sisters Garden check the reverse of the 2009 Native American dollar.

Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com. The Quackers have a new, amazing website! Stories, pictures and a blog at www.thequackers.com.