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Growing Guide: Three Sisters

The tradition of planting corn, pole beans, and squash together is a Native American method we still use to this day. Although many Native tribes used this method of planting it was the Haudenosaunee (H-oh-DEE-no-SH-oh-nee) AKA Iroquoise that coined the term, “Three Sisters”.

Three sisters planting is an easy and fun way to teach students about the benefits of companion planting.

First, Sister Corn is sown directly into the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Unlike many other vegetables corn is self pollinating so it needs to be planted close together for the pollination process to occur. If possible, plant corn in circles or in blocks instead of straight rows. Corn should be planted one inch deep and 4-5 inches apart. When the corn has grown 3-4 inches thin them so there is 8-9 inches between them.  Allow your sprouted corn to grow for 2-3 weeks before plating Sister Pole Bean.

Sister Pole Bean is a vigorous grower and can strangle Sister Corn if she planted too early- this is why she is planted a few weeks after sister corn has germinated. In addition to using the corn stalks as trellises, pole beans provide nitrogen to the soil and shade to the corn’s shallow roots. Pole beans should be directly sown and planted evenly in a square like pattern around the corn stalk.

Sister Squash is the protector of the bunch. Her long roots keep soil from eroding. Her big leaves provide cover to the garden which suppresses weeds and her prickly vines keep away unwanted pest. To properly protect her sisters, Sister Squash is planted at the outer edges of the garden about a week after Sister Bean. The idea is to have the squash vines encircle the other two sisters.

There are several compatible plants that can be substituted or added in to your three sister garden, below are a few suggestions:

Instead of/ in addition to corn, try:

  • Sunflowers
  • Sorghum

Instead of/  in addition to squash try:

  • Pumpkins
  • Melons
  • Cucumbers