Planting Three Sisters

Planting Three Sisters

Earlier this week I talked about the practice of burying a fish with your crops as a natural fertilizer. This started me thinking of other long used methods of farming that I may have been overlooking. A little digging brought to surface another ancient gem that I had completely forgotten about.

It is the Three Sisters that I am interested in today. The sisters, corn, beans and squash are grown together in symbiotic bliss.

Bonus Corn. Those adorable baby corns for stir fry!

I had planned to make 10 bean and pea tipi’s in several places in the garden, but I’ve had an anomaly this year that has prompted the need for other plantings as well. I started four kinds of beans and three kinds of peas in anticipation of my tipi structures. Usually I have about 75-80% germination so I over start to get all I need. This year I have had very near 100% germination. I’m loathe to toss a plant that is healthy and really wants to grow, so what am I to do?

Three sisters to the rescue! I have a bed at the bottom of the slope of the yard that I have prepared for a corn bed. I am growing Bonus corn, which makes those adorable baby ears of corn that you find in all the Chinese restaurants. If you’ve never grown this, you really must try it. Usually corn makes one ear per stalk. Bonus makes 4 or 5 ears per stalk. Cool!

I’m also growing Country Gentleman, a white shoepeg corn that is as beautiful as it is delicious.

So here I am with more beans and peas than I have tipi’s for, what’s a girl to do?

Patty Pan (or Scallop) Squash, the third sister.

Hyacinth Bean “Moonshadow” One of the sisters

Hooray for the three sisters! Native Americans would grow corn (maize), beans and squash together. The corn is not able to fix nitrogen, but beans do. The beans cannot support themselves, but they can grow up the corn for support. The squash benefits from the beans nitrogen and then fills in the ground at the base of corn and peas, shading the ground eliminating weeds and holding in moisture and their spikey leaves and stems warn off pests.

I’m going one step further, like the Tewa tribes and other Southwest tribes which added a fourth sister,

Butterfly weed to attract my little pollinating friends!

known as Rocky Mountain Bee plant, to encourage the little pollinators to visit. I’m going to put a border of Asclepias tuberosa or Butterfly Weed to encourage my little buzzers to party at my house.

I’m growing Bonus and Country Gentleman corn, Hyacinth and Velour beans, and variegated patty pan (or scallop) squash in my “Three Sisters” bed. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

If you’re interested in your own version of the three sisters, I’ll tell you what I know. Place your corn in the middle of your plot. When your corn gets about six inches high, plant your beans and squash around the corn. As your beans grow, help guide them to the corn stalks they’ll take it from there. Be sure to plant new seeds in succession so you’ll have a steady supply all summer instead of a glut all at once.

Let me know what you think! I love to hear from you.

Have a three sisters paisley day!~KeriAnne

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2 Responses »

  1. No room for corn in my backyard, but we have a large green bean teepee and lots of squash. Doing my best to prevent vine borers from ruining the crop this year.

  2. Which beans are you growing? Aren’t they fun! I have purple podded Velour and Hyacinth Moonshadow as well as Asian Winged Beans. Are you putting squash underneath?

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