The three sisters of gardening are corn, pole beans, and squash. They work together to solve many of the problems of gardens. The stalks provide support for the beans, the beans add the nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs in order to grow, and the squash vines create a ground cover that keeps the soil moist, the weeds down, and the pests away.
Planting the Three Sisters
Started by Native American farmers, three sisters gardening has been practiced for hundreds of years. Here’s one way to plant a three sisters garden:
- Hoe or till the soil when it warms up enough to be worked in the spring.
- Pile mounds of soil four feet away from each other. Make each mound about one foot high and two feet across. Flatten the tops of the mounds.
- After the danger of frost has passed plant five or six kernels of corn in a circle in the center of each mound.
- When the corn is about five inches tall (in a week or two), plant seven or eight pole bean seeds in a circle around the corn, about six inches from the corn seedlings.
- A week later, plant seven or eight squash or pumpkin seeds in a circle about one foot from the beans.
- Make sure the beans are wrapping around the cornstalks as they grow.
You’ll find many variations on this method, including planting a three sisters garden in a container.
Harvesting the Three Sisters Garden
Harvest the beans when the pods are firm and crisp, before the seeds being to swell. Let squash stay on the vine until its skin has hardened. Cut the stem three inches from the fruit with a sharp knife; then let the squash sit in the sun for a few days to cure. Pick sweet corn when the kernels are smooth and plump and the juice looks milky when you puncture it with a fingernail. Look for drying and browning of the silks. To harvest an ear of corn, hold the stalk a few inches below the ear and quickly pull the tip of the ear toward the ground until it snaps off.
Want to learn more about the Three Sisters Gardening Method?
The Three Sisters gardening tradition is rich in history and folklore. Learn more at these fascinating websites.
Native American Three Sisters Gardens
Three Sisters: An Ancient Garden Trio
Legends and Myths: The “Three Sisters” Garden