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Is it possible to survive long-term on just the three sisters?

 
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Does anyone know what deficiencies you would have if you ate nothing but Dent Corn, Winter Squash, and Dry Beans?

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[Maize] It does lack two essential amino acids — lysine and tryptophane — as well as riboflavin and niacin. ... Carbohydrate-rich squashes are a great source of vitamin A, and their seeds provide quality vegetable fats that corn and beans lack

https://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/three-sisters-corn-beans-squash-zmaz01fmzsel
 
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I know people that have been surviving for years on top ramen, cheese, and beer.  I'd be inclined to think corn, beans, and squash would carry you longer and leave you feeling far healthier  Especially if grown in good soil.  Plants are only as good as the soil they're grown in, IMO!  If you only had 3 survival plants, these wouldn't be bad to rely on.  Plus they're super versatile in their preparation!
 
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And of course squash leaves are edible too...
 
Scott Foster
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Galen Young wrote:[Maize] It does lack two essential amino acids — lysine and tryptophan — as well as riboflavin and niacin. ... Carbohydrate-rich squashes are a great source of vitamin A, and their seeds provide quality vegetable fats that corn and beans lack

https://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/three-sisters-corn-beans-squash-zmaz01fmzsel



Thanks, Galen.  Throw some regular white spuds in the ground, and you'd be good to go.  I didn't realize they provide "all" essential amino acids. Kick it up and notch with sweet potatoes, and you'd have a solid base.
 
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Thankfully, no one should have to.  There are so many plants that grow well with very little care and are vitamin and mineral powerhouses that I would never try.  Things like kale are super easy, as are lots of other leaf crops, and as mentioned, potatoes are great.  Filling, lots of calories as vegetables go, mix with lot of other things, great yields.

My own strategy (every year) is grow as many things as possible so that the inevitable failure of some doesn't set me back terribly.  I would be concerned that if I grew just three crops, I may very well lose one or two of them, and then things look pretty bleak.
 
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I just ran a nutritional analysis. If you ate 5 cups each per day of corn mush, cooked pinto beans, and butternut squash, you'd meet your caloric needs, and most vitamin and mineral needs.

However, you would be completely deficient in B12 (from animals), D (which the body can make), and K (from green leafy things). You'd be severely deficient in omega 3/6 oils, and choline.
 
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So it sounds like if you added chickens (eggs) to your 3 sisters and fed them on it as well you could probably do it. If you didn't die of boredom of course!
 
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Adding bacon and lard to the diet would help too - lots of vitamin D in outdoors-raised pig fat.
 
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Scott Foster wrote: Does anyone know what deficiencies you would have if you ate nothing but Dent Corn, Winter Squash, and Dry Beans?


This begs more information.  For how long?  A winter, a year, or years?  Are there existing health conditions to consider?  For an adult or a growing child?  

Genetic predisposition(s) could be a factor.  Some individuals don't seem to have a problem with consuming lots of corn, while others become diabetic over time though I feel that might be more relevant with certain non heirloom varieties.

I think consuming what grows seasonally where we are is a good guideline.
 
Scott Foster
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Trace Oswald wrote:Thankfully, no one should have to.  There are so many plants that grow well with very little care and are vitamin and mineral powerhouses that I would never try.  Things like kale are super easy, as are lots of other leaf crops, and as mentioned, potatoes are great.  Filling, lots of calories as vegetables go, mix with lot of other things, great yields.

My own strategy (every year) is grow as many things as possible so that the inevitable failure of some doesn't set me back terribly.  I would be concerned that if I grew just three crops, I may very well lose one or two of them, and then things look pretty bleak.



I'm with you, Trace.  I'm doing this more as a mental exercise.  
Trying to break each of the staple crops down by the nutrition they provide; so I can use them like puzzles or chess pieces.  I'm not sure if this makes sense.  I wouldn't want to plant five things that provide say vitamin K and nothing that includes vitamin D.  If I see what each offers, I have a better idea.  I spent the day breaking down potatoes, and I'm too lazy to do beans, corn, and squash.  LOL.
 
Scott Foster
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Catherine Windrose wrote:

Scott Foster wrote: Does anyone know what deficiencies you would have if you ate nothing but Dent Corn, Winter Squash, and Dry Beans?


This begs more information.  For how long?  A winter, a year, or years?  Are there existing health conditions to consider?  For an adult or a growing child?  

Genetic predisposition(s) could be a factor.  Some individuals don't seem to have a problem with consuming lots of corn, while others become diabetic over time though I feel that might be more relevant with certain non heirloom varieties.

I think consuming what grows seasonally where we are is a good guideline.




Hi Catherine,  I was thinking about surviving on it for years.  Like I'm growing a garden, and I need staples, if I'm eating beans, dent corn, and squash, what else will I need to plant.

It's more of a mental exercise to use when deciding what to plant, so you have a well-rounded garden.
 
Scott Foster
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I just ran a nutritional analysis. If you ate 5 cups each per day of corn mush, cooked pinto beans, and butternut squash, you'd meet your caloric needs, and most vitamin and mineral needs.

However, you would be completely deficient in B12 (from animals), D (which the body can make), and K (from green leafy things). You'd be severely deficient in omega 3/6 oils, and choline.



Thanks, Joseph, excellent information.  If you don't mind me asking what tools are using to do a break-down? Is there a calculator or a white paper you would suggest?  

Thanks, Scott
 
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Galen Young wrote:[Maize] It does lack two essential amino acids — lysine and tryptophane — as well as riboflavin and niacin. ... Carbohydrate-rich squashes are a great source of vitamin A, and their seeds provide quality vegetable fats that corn and beans lack

https://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/three-sisters-corn-beans-squash-zmaz01fmzsel





Thanks, Galen.  Much appreciated.
 
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Throw in some easy garden herbs like mint and thyme and maybe basil and cilantro. Etc.  

They won't interfere with the three sisters... in some arrangements they can compliment ground cover(weed suppression)....  are perennial or come back easily from seeds(their supply)....   and may slightly help alleviate the desire to want to hang yourself after trying to eat these three crops non stop for 6 months or two years.
 
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I guess for Northamericans this is a known fact (as opposed to Europeans), but for higher nutrition you should look into nixtamalization of the corn:
Nixtamalization
Quote:
Adoption of the nixtamalization process did not accompany the grain to Europe and beyond, perhaps because the Europeans already had more efficient milling processes for hulling grain mechanically. Without alkaline processing, maize is a much less beneficial foodstuff, and malnutrition struck many areas where it became a dominant food crop. In the nineteenth century, pellagra epidemics were recorded in France, Italy, and Egypt, and kwashiorkor hit parts of Africa where maize had become a dietary staple.
 
Scott Foster
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Anita Martin wrote:I guess for Northamericans this is a known fact (as opposed to Europeans), but for higher nutrition you should look into nixtamalization of the corn:
Nixtamalization
Quote:
Adoption of the nixtamalization process did not accompany the grain to Europe and beyond, perhaps because the Europeans already had more efficient milling processes for hulling grain mechanically. Without alkaline processing, maize is a much less beneficial foodstuff, and malnutrition struck many areas where it became a dominant food crop. In the nineteenth century, pellagra epidemics were recorded in France, Italy, and Egypt, and kwashiorkor hit parts of Africa where maize had become a dietary staple.



..............
Hi Anita, Thanks for the information.  I did a little bit of reading last week about hominy, dent soaked in wood ash, in Mexico, to make Masa for tortillas. I thought this was a modern process.

 I read an article yesterday that said Native Americans ate corn, but it was much more nutritious than the way we eat it today because:

1. They husked the corn (which was said to be an arduous process, but they didn't say how it was husked)
2. They tended to harvest the three sisters at the same time (winter storage) and then eat them together in Succotash. Eating the sisters this way leads to better vitamin and mineral absorption than eating each on its own.

You made me think, how did the Natives husk their corn?  I know it was an arduous process, whatever they did.  So I looked into it. They were making hominy from dent corn by soaking it in wood ash. (haha nixtamalization.)  

This idea is an offshoot, but last week I was researching ways of processing foods for an emergency, and I came across sprouting.  Sprouting seeds is fantastic, how else can you get fresh produce, in the middle of winter, with little water, and no light.  

Here is another weird leap.  One of the safety warnings that pop up about sprouts is salmonella and other food born illnesses that come on the tainted seed.   (lIt seems like they try to scare you off) Now they are bleaching sprouting seeds, which kills a lot of the nutritional value.

Your response got this little chain reaction going in my head. It's like we are so afraid of food born illness that we kill our food.  I wonder if abandoning processes like nixtamalization, and embracing pasteurization, etc., are why modern man has so many issues with gut health.  Maybe it's why so many have auto-immune issues.  If your gut can't use nutrients, what use are they? Very interesting.  Thanks for your input.
 
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For a fascinating description of traditional Hidatsa methods of growing, processing, storing, and cooking the "three sisters"and other native crops, read "Native American Gardening: Buffalobird-Woman's Guide to Traditional Methods." by Gilbert L. Wilson, Dover Publication 2005.  This is a republication of a 1917 University of Minnesota bulletin titled "Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation."

Buffalobird Woman describes many treatments and uses of corn in particular that surprised me. Some portion of the corn crop was picked green (e.g. like sweet corn), parboiled, shelled, and dried for winter use. I wonder if this method of preparing corn for storage at its "green"stage preserves some of the vitamins present in the green corn that may be different from those in the fully mature grain corn? Could be a way to get a fuller range of nutrients through the winter.
 
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Mk Neal wrote:For a fascinating description of traditional Hidatsa methods of growing, processing, storing, and cooking the "three sisters"and other native crops, read "Native American Gardening: Buffalobird-Woman's Guide to Traditional Methods." by Gilbert L. Wilson, Dover Publication 2005.  This is a republication of a 1917 University of Minnesota bulletin titled "Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation."

Buffalobird Woman describes many treatments and uses of corn in particular that surprised me. Some portion of the corn crop was picked green (e.g. like sweet corn), parboiled, shelled, and dried for winter use. I wonder if this method of preparing corn for storage at its "green"stage preserves some of the vitamins present in the green corn that may be different from those in the fully mature grain corn? Could be a way to get a fuller range of nutrients through the winter.



Exactly - dehydrated sweet corn is more of a vegetable and helps to keep a 3 sisters diet from becoming monotonous. Mature dry sweet corn can be parched for another variation to the diet. We make hominy weekly from our flint corn. You can do this with dent, flour, even pop corn and sorghum - they just have differing cooking times. Hominy is more nutritious and tastes great. It's what we're having for lunch today with beans and salsa (a decontructed tortilla). Of course you can make tortillas if you have the inclination. The hominy can also be tossed in soups and is great served with a marinara sauce as a gluten-free pasta substitute. As for squash, I think it was Carol Deppe who pointed out that most squash eaten by natives in the winter weren'y necessarily "winter" squash varieties. They didn't have root cellars or rodent-free places to store squash but rather dehydrated squash to be reconstituted later. Any squash was suitable for this method of storage.
 
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Someone with more mental energy than I have right now might try making a series of Punnett Squares for a human diet.  They are typically used to determine percentages of different feeds needed to make a complete ration for livestock.  You’ll have to look up links, because I’m on a tablet.
 
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Mk Neal wrote:For a fascinating description of traditional Hidatsa methods of growing, processing, storing, and cooking the "three sisters"and other native crops, read "Native American Gardening: Buffalobird-Woman's Guide to Traditional Methods." by Gilbert L. Wilson, Dover Publication 2005.  This is a republication of a 1917 University of Minnesota bulletin titled "Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation."



Here ya go:
https://archive.org/details/cu31924073970703/mode/2up

In case something is missing or messed up (I didn't check) there are four different copies:
https://archive.org/search.php?query=Agriculture%20of%20the%20Hidatsa%20Indians%3A%20An%20Indian%20Interpretation
Three free, one to borrow.
 
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Larisa Walk wrote: You can do this with dent, flour, even pop corn and sorghum




Now I'm tempted to try it with Job's Tears.
 
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Galen Young wrote:[Maize] It does lack two essential amino acids — lysine and tryptophane — as well as riboflavin and niacin. ... Carbohydrate-rich squashes are a great source of vitamin A, and their seeds provide quality vegetable fats that corn and beans lack

https://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/three-sisters-corn-beans-squash-zmaz01fmzsel



Well what a coincidence....amino acids missing in corn are abundant in beans  !       Do you recon that is why the majority of the world survives and thrives on beans and grains since when consumed together you have
meat equivalent quality protein.       ie.  rice/corn/wheat          I dont know about the rest of the vitamins and minerals but protein is covered.
 
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Don’t forget about eating the weeds that come up in your Three Sisters patch....lamb’s quarters, creasy greens or wild mustard, chickweed, nettles, etc., etc.  They have a lot of good nutrition to round out the diet also.  
 
Scott Perkins
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Melba Streiff wrote:Don’t forget about eating the weeds that come up in your Three Sisters patch....lamb’s quarters, creasy greens or wild mustard, chickweed, nettles, etc., etc.  They have a lot of good nutrition to round out the diet also.  



I always wondered if there were some edible nutritious weeds because they are so prolific they might even be a better food source since they are more hardy and robust about spreading etc.   You dont even have
to plant them.    

Further,  I have a back yard full of weeds that I feel is a fantastic ground cover which is really all I want.  The current variety is via a process of natural selection over twenty years and I dont want to mess
with perfection.    But how do you know what to eat ?

This topic is especially interesting because this season I am growing a salad garden with exclusively  several kinds of kale,  swiss chard, Arrugglia,  and some varieties of spinach all mixed together.     I have no idea what is coming up and am afraid some of what I pick might be weeds.    Could that make me sick ?
 
Melba Streiff
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Scott Perkins wrote:

Melba Streiff wrote:Don’t forget about eating the weeds that come up in your Three Sisters patch....lamb’s quarters, creasy greens or wild mustard, chickweed, nettles, etc., etc.  They have a lot of good nutrition to round out the diet also.  



I always wondered if there were some edible nutritious weeds because they are so prolific they might even be a better food source since they are more hardy and robust about spreading etc.   You dont even have
to plant them.    

Further,  I have a back yard full of weeds that I feel is a fantastic ground cover which is really all I want.  The current variety is via a process of natural selection over twenty years and I dont want to mess
with perfection.    But how do you know what to eat ?

This topic is especially interesting because this season I am growing a salad garden with exclusively  several kinds of kale,  swiss chard, Arrugglia,  and some varieties of spinach all mixed together.     I have no idea what is coming up and am afraid some of what I pick might be weeds.    Could that make me sick ?



Make sure of anything before you eat it.  Not many poisonous plants compared to the edible stuff, but those that are can be deadly.  Get some good books, DVDs or take field walks and learn from those who teach it.  I do teach herb classes and have a DVD on them, but so do a lot of other people.  Find someone close to you.
 
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My thinking Melba. Eat the weeds and forage for wild plants while on a walk. A good book on local wild edibles and the SAS handbook for survival will get you lots of information about catching fish and game with traps. If the animals aren't too polluted where you are, you're doing yourself a favor.
 
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If you want to play games with nutrition analysis without too much hard work, head over to https://cronometer.com/ and try out their software.  You do have to create an account, but it's free unless you want to upgrade for the premium features.  "Add a food" to your "diary" by picking from one of several databases (including USDA), and it reports out everything it can find about that food, including individual content of each of the essential amino acids.  A really good resource for free.
 
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I'm not sure where you are, Scott, but you should be able to grow a lot more than that, fairly simply, to boost your caloric and nutritional needs.  I would suggest, as others have, adding some easy greens and herbs, but also having other sources of protein and starches than those.  Not that the Three Sisters are bad choices, but I wouldn't put all your eggs into one basket, so to speak, as crops can fail.   Potatoes, and yams come to mind, as things to boost your starches.  A large selection of beans in your arsenal would be of great benefit.  

One could definitely survive a long time on the Three Sisters, but it should be kept in mind that these were just the foundation of that diet, the staples; they did not encompass the entire diet of the nations who ate them traditionally.  Most of those cultures were also hunting and gathering, or were growing other crops, like plants in the amaranth/quinoa/lambs quarters family, as well as things like Stinging Nettles.

Also, if corn is Nixtamalized humans can digest and assimilate it much better.   Straight up corn mush without nixtamalization is mostly going to be ruffage going through your system.
 
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Robert-  I live in Georgia and as a bachelor I am only planting the things I am deficient in.   "Greens"   I am far from undernourished calorie wise and I am a quick eater of fast foods,  eggs
meats and canned and frozen goods but I hardly ever get the nutrition I know I need from fresh leafy greens.   SO, that is why I call my garden the SALAD garden.   Last year I did something
similar and every day I could walk out and pluck the leaves one at a time from the many plants and fill up a bowl so that I could have a huge salad with olive oil and balsalmic vinegar
as the only food for a lunch.   I am overweight and it is the only time I can stuff myself without guilt as you simply cannot eat too much greens.

I met a Cattle rancher farmer from Colorado a while back and he said that he had six or seven divided pastures and he found that he could grow beets in all of them and rotate
his cows between the pastures and he thought that beets were the most productive food you could grow per acre.  Anyway,  he fattened his herds on them.
He said they ate the stems and leaves and dug up the roots.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Right on Scott Perkins. Great that you are making sure you get that much greens into you.  Many would be jealous.  Beets are surely a great addition as well.  I highly recommend beets to anyone who can grow them in their land.  At my place the voles destroy my beet crops. Sometimes they don't even get past the second leaves before they are gone.  if they make it to the appearance of maturity, the voles have often eaten most of the roots right out from underneath the leaves.

When I addressed 'Scott' in my above post, I was referring to the original poster.  No offense.  I should have clarified but I failed to remember that there was another Scott posting in the thread.  
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Something to keep in mind is that it’s pretty easy to get enough leafy greens during the growing season, but not so easy during the dormant season.  They can be frozen or canned for dormant season use.  Or you can dry them and crumble the dried leaves into soups and stews.  I use a lot of dried parsley, as one example.  

Perennial herbs can add a lot of flavor to an otherwise bland diet and keep you from getting food fatigue, and can all be dried.  
 
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If you add peas, amaranth, (great mineral source, leaves and seeds are edible.) sunflowers, and nasturtiums (for vitamin C, they will grow around the edges of the squash.) to this veggie guild, and get a flock of chickens, you’ll do pretty well.
 
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Jen Fan wrote:I know people that have been surviving for years on top ramen, cheese, and beer.  I'd be inclined to think corn, beans, and squash would carry you longer and leave you feeling far healthier



I'm not a beer-drinker myself - I barely touch any alcohol (don't like the taste, and doesn't sit well in my stomach), and never beers, but I think you'd be surprised how nutritious certain beers are. I forget which one, but one was designed specifically to provide sustenance to people during a famine, and is basically as dense as an entire meal.
 
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You mention feeding a child such a diet...

I grew up in state foster care in the 70's.  My last foster parents were Seventh Day Adventists and they did not believe in eating anything that originates from an animal, ie no butter, cheese, milk, animal fats or oils, no eggs or fish etc etc etc.  I arrived there at 8 1/2 years old weighing 86 pounds...  I left there at ten years old weighing 45 pounds.  My adoptive mother broke into tears the first time I took my shirt off to get ready for bed and rushed my brother and I to the hospital to be checked out as you could see every bone in our bodies.  We went from exceptionally healthy individuals to extremely malnourished in 18 months of vegetarian diet.

Keep in mind when we were in school we had all you can eat home cooked lunch, as our food in the tiny town of Monument Oregon was donated by local farmers and ranchers.  My brother and I would eat a good four to six hamburgers and several cartons of milk each day at lunch.  But 6 months of our stay there were summer months when we had no access to such things.  We ate literally everything, we ate what we thought were wild onions along the road (actually sedge bulbs), we ate juniper berries, we ate wild sunflowers just chewed them up and swallowed the juice from the pulp.  We stole bags of banana chips, ate loads of lambs quarters, cleaned the apricot trees, ate all you can eat apples, stole peanut butter from the cupboards at night etc etc etc...  We ate everything we could get our hands on 24/7 and yet we still lost 40 pounds in 18 months.

I would not advise trying to raise a child such an abnormal diet, no doubt they could deal with it as adults but as children it is challenging enough to give them a well balanced diet as it is.  I am not against vegetarianism, but I understand first hand the dangers of it with children...  We are not "designed" to be vegetarians....
 
Anita Martin
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Jamin Grey wrote:

Jen Fan wrote:I know people that have been surviving for years on top ramen, cheese, and beer.  I'd be inclined to think corn, beans, and squash would carry you longer and leave you feeling far healthier



I'm not a beer-drinker myself - I barely touch any alcohol (don't like the taste, and doesn't sit well in my stomach), and never beers, but I think you'd be surprised how nutritious certain beers are. I forget which one, but one was designed specifically to provide sustenance to people during a famine, and is basically as dense as an entire meal.


Well, you should ask a Bavarian about nourishing beer!
For ages beer was considered basic foodstuff and was even part of your daily pay.
The calories contained in the barley do not get lost during brewing. Beer is called "liquid bread" around here.

Although I am not a big beerdrinker myself and would certainly not advocate beer for children, this was done well into the 20th century (giving beer to kids).

During Lent, the time between Carnival and Easter, a special beer was made that was stronger and made up for all that stuff you were not allowed to eat (mostly meat, sweets, eggs, etc.). This is still very popular and every beer company has its own type of Lent beer.
For that reason, Lent is quite a popular season here.
Here is a short article on Starkbier: http://www.schnitzelbahn.com/homepage/2012/6/12/starkbier-tasting.html
 
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I've always wanted to try wild Purslane which is supposedly packed with nutrients and which might already be growing in your garden.  This might be the year that I get around to actually trying it. Make sure that you're good with identification because there is another plant that looks very similar and isn't good for you.  One has milky sap and one has clear sap.  

Edit:
I just read Roy Longs post a couple of post above and would like to second his opinion. It certainly sounds like he knows what he's talking about.
 
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Hello all.  

Thanks for the great feedback!  Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that anyone relies on the three sisters unless it's a necessity.  This is more of a thought exercise.   The three sisters would be a building block for the garden.  I'm not well versed in the nutritional value or the reality of surviving on limited types of food.  I figured this would be a good question to flesh out the issues. My goal is to take all of the building blocks and see how they "realistically" fit together.  I'm actually leaning towards potatoes and sweet potatoes as my main crop but that doesn't mean I won't plant hard and soft grain and the three sisters.



I can tell you upfront I'm not a vegetarian., I'm more inclined to be an Omnivore leaning towards carnivore.  Under an SHTF situation, it seems that animal meat is going to be a commodity.  I don't have livestock, not even chickens though I probably should.   Pretty much anything will grow where I live, within reason.

I'm living pretty close to a Corona hotspot so I know what it feels like to go to the grocery store.   We have a tone of bleach but we are out of canned Lysol and there isn't any on the shelves.  We have tons of flour and sugar but a limited supply of yeast.   Things I wish I could store more of: yeast, butter, milk, preserves (jams and jellies are a huge morale booster), peanut butter, etc.   If you can't buy this stuff at the store you have to produce it.   There are so many small things that you forget about.

I'm trying to flesh those small things out a bit.  I hope this makes sense.
 
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