Have you ever noticed that growing certain plants together in your garden will help each of them thrive? This is called companion gardening, something Native American tribes have done for over 6,000 years. This ancient planting wisdom continues to be used today in modern agricultural practices, as the science behind it is right on. Probably the most common of companion gardening practices is called ‘The Three Sisters Companion Planting’, which includes corn, beans and squash. Today, I am sharing this incredible ancient wisdom with you! If you follow the planting guidelines you can watch the magic in your own garden and reap the rewards!
I have always geeked out over Native American cultures and values. If you really dive in and study their gardening and lifestyle traditions, you can’t help but be amazed at all of the incredible practices they follow. Many of their beliefs align with my own, and now with our modern technology, we have scientific explanations for why they were so successful far before modern science, medicine and agriculture. Just wicked smart. It is such a shame that so much of these traditions have been lost, but that’s a different conversation altogether.
Luckily for us, there is documentation on the ‘Three Sisters’ planting. My fabulous Aunt Kathy is the one who brought this information to my attention, as she has been using this method in her own garden for years. The three sisters, as I stated earlier, refer to corn, beans and squash. They were considered sisters because when grown together they are inseparable, giving and providing for each other, just like human sisters. When planted together, each brings their own strengths and weaknesses, mutually providing for and taking from each other, allowing all to thrive. How beautiful is this?
Corn is considered the eldest sister. It is planted first, grows the tallest and provides support for the other two to grow.
Beans are the middle sister. Their vines wrap around the corn naturally as they grow, bringing the sisters closer together. It is the bean plants that pull nitrogen from the air and push it directly down into the soil, creating healthy soil for all three sisters to thrive.
Although she is the little sister, squash is just as important to the group as the others (can you tell, I am the little sister?! HA!) The squash plant has large, wide and dense leaves which act as a natural shade to all three plants. This shade allows the soil to keep cool, permitting water to penetrate the roots. The leaves also act as weed prevention.
As stated, these sisters thrive planted together. I It is so fascinating to watch nature take care of and replenish itself when given the space to do so without interference.
The best way to prepare your garden for three sisters planting is:
- Make sure all threats of frost have passed before planting the three sisters! Prepare a mound of dirt in your garden about a foot or so in height and about 4 feet wide, as suggested by The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
- Plant the corn stalks or seeds first, spacing each about 6-8 inches from each other in each mound. Let the stalks grow about 6-8 inches before planting the beans. This will take a couple of weeks.
- When the corn stalks have reached their ideal height, plant a couple of bean seeds or seedlings approximately 6-8 inches from the base of the corn stalk, ensuring you are still planting on the same mound of soil.
- Let the bean plants develop prior to planting the squash, waiting about a week or two. After that time, evenly space out and plant about 5-6 squash seeds or seedlings along the perimeter of the mound.
- Water regularly all season long, allowing the sisters to grow naturally with each other until harvest season. Debug and protect the plants as you would for any other vegetable and watch the magic happen!
I hope you find this process as fascinating as I do! Let me know how it goes, as I would love for all of us to celebrate our huge harvest together this fall, even if it is virtually!
For more information on growing a fabulous vegetable garden, check out my recent post on successful gardening and planning here