Native people from North America referred to beans, corn and squash as the “three sisters” since they grow so well together. Corn stalks provide a “pole” for the pole beans to grow on. The fuzzy, irritating hairs on the squash leaves protect the beans and the corn from being eaten by animals. This is one of the life-saving bits of information that the Native people shared with the Pilgrims after they (barely) survived that first winter.
Things You’ll Need:
- corn seeds or seedlings
- pole bean seeds or seedlings
- squash (or pumpkin)seeds or seedlings
- spade, shovel
- a fish (if you want to be really authentic) or some fertilizer that will add nitrogen to the soil
Once the threat of frost has past, pick a 4 foot diameter circle in your yard in which to plant your Three Sisters Garden.
Turn over the soil with a spade, removing grass and weeds.
Add topsoil to make a mound of dirt about 18 inches high in the center and about 3 feet in diameter.
If you are planting from seeds, follow the directions on the seed package for soaking. You can soak about 7 corn seeds and plant them all, but you’ll need to thin them to about 4 plants later. If you are using seedlings, start with 4 corn plants, one for each of the cardinal directions. Allow the corn to get about 4 inches high before going to the next step. Native people would place a fish in the hole under the seeds for fertilizer. Corn needs lots of nitrogen. Planting the beans near the corn also helps with this, as they are legumes and have the ability to “fix” nitrogen into a usable form that plants can use.
Next, plant the pole beans in a circle around the corn about 6 inches away. You will need to thin the seedlings to about 3 or 4 plants later.At the same time, plant the squash in a circle around the beans and corn about a foot away from the beans.
Gently weed your garden and keep it watered. If you find your bean tendrils are not headed in the right direction, you can steer them there. I have seen some people use three long sticks to erect “tipi” style over the mound for the beans to wind around.
Jerusalem Artichoke – they have edible tubers Native people also grew sunflowers, sweet potatoes, chili peppers, blueberries, cotton, wild rice, melons and a perennial sunflower known as “jerusalem artichoke”. Jerusalem artichokes have an edible tuber (underground) that can be cooked and mashed like a potato. I saw a recipe that called for it to thicken a soup.
The corn, beans and pumpkins are often eaten together in a stew or soup, making a complete protein.
If you are doing this with children, here is a book that is an Iroquois Legend (The Sun’s Daughter) that explains the legend of the three sisters. (click on the last link below)