Grow Your Own Three Sisters Garden
What is the Three Sisters Garden?
If you enjoy history and gardening, you will love to grow your own Three Sisters Garden! This method of growing your own fresh produce involves three seeds that made up some of the most important crops for Native Americans: Corn, Beans, and Squash. Together, these crops form a tried and true trio that perfectly balance each other in the garden.
As the Haudenosaunee story goes, these three crops thrive as they grow together, much like three loving sisters. When planted in close proximity to each other, corn, beans, and squash plants will provide you with a reliable, bountiful harvest. The Native Americans mastered the art of planting, caring for, and harvesting these vegetables for centuries, and we continue to draw from their vast knowledge today to successfully grow the Three Sisters Garden. So, what makes them thrive together?
Why It Works
The simple answer as to what makes the Three Sisters Garden so effective lies within each plant’s natural growth habit. First, consider that corn grows in stalks that tower above the soil. These stalks provide bean plants with perfect posts to climb up as they mature. This then cuts down on the competition between beans and squash, as both then receive ample room to spread; One goes up, the other fans out. Everyone wins!
Furthermore, the nitrogen that bean plants provide fertilizes the soil, and squash plants’ foliage aid in soil moisture retention, as the large leaves shade the ground. This also helps to prevent pesky weeds. Because we live in the Northeast United States, we benefit from adequate rainfall that allows the three of these plants to be planted close together. With consistent rain, the crops need not compete for a water source as they would if planted in a dry, warmer region.
How to Plant a Three Sisters Garden
Pick the Perfect Plants
First, decide on a location. Like most vegetable gardens, the Three Sisters Garden will need direct sunlight for most of the day, and a location with well-drained soil. Next, decide on which type of corn, beans, and squash you wish to plant, as there are plenty of varieties to choose from for each. Because you want your beans to climb the corn stalks, we recommend choosing to plant a pole variety. Try planting Kentucky Wonder, Romano Italian, and Blue Lake Beans.
Next, pick a tall, sturdy corn to plant, and avoid miniature varieties. You can choose to plant a sweet corn typically found in the home garden nowadays, or a traditional maize corn like Blue Hopi, Rainbow, or Squaw. Even Popcorn varieties stay true to the Native American tradition and add to the fun of growing a Three Sisters Garden.
Finally, decide on which Squash to plant. You need a vining variety, as opposed to bush squash. Typically, Winter squash will work best. The traditional choice would be a Pumpkin, but you can also go with Spaghetti, Butternut, or any other vine-growing Winter squash that you prefer. Once you have chosen your varieties of each of the Three Sisters, it’s time to plant!
The Haudenosaunee method for planting begins with building an elevated mound that is three feet across and roughly a foot high. This mound aids in soil drainage, which contributes to avoiding root rot. First, plant your corn in the center of the mound. Six or seven corn seeds placed in the center of each mound will suffice. Once they have sprouted, thin to just four for maximum growth potential. Two weeks after the corn sprouts, you can plant six to seven bean seeds in a circle surrounding the corn about six inches away from the corn. When these sprout, also thin them to just four.
Lastly, at the same time as you plant the beans, also plant the squash seeds. Plant two squash seeds and thin to one when they sprout. The squash will grow around the base, while the beans will grow up the corn.
It is important to note that these plants are not cold tolerant, so we recommend waiting until after the last frost before beginning your Three Sisters Garden. The optimal time to plant is very late Spring into early Summer (late May/early June). With this timing, you can expect to harvest your Three Sisters into Fall simultaneously for combined use in your cooking.
Get Ready, Get Set, Plant!
While we mentioned that corn, beans, and squash complement each other well in the garden, they also pair well in the kitchen for many dishes! Once you harvest your Three Sisters, try making a Fresh Soup, or even sub your fresh ingredients in for the canned ones listed to make this Fiesta Mexican Lasagna! Explore our recipes database for all kinds of additional recipes that you use your homegrown produce, and enjoy the satisfaction of growing your own Three Sisters Garden!