Three Sisters Gardening – Guilds, Companion Planting Corn, Beans and Squash.
I’ve been reading up on companion planting during seed selection time and I came across some good info about the “Three Sisters.” The corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb, the beans fix nitrogen and feed the corn, and the squash provides a low cover crop, deturring weeds and pests. The Indigenous North Americans have used this example of a plant guild for ages.
This page: Celebrate the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash gives a great run down on the technique.
Instructions for Planting Your Own Three Sisters Garden in a 10 x 10 square
When to plant:
Sow seeds any time after spring night temperatures are in the 50 degree range, up through June.
What to plant:
Corn must be planted in several rows rather than one long row to ensure adequate pollination. Choose pole beans or runner beans and a squash or pumpkin variety with trailing vines, rather than a compact bush. At Renees Garden, we have created our Three Sisters Garden Bonus Pack, which contains three inner packets of multi-colored Indian Corn, Scarlet Runner Beans to twine up the corn stalks and Sugar Pie Pumpkins to cover the ground.
Note: A 10 x 10 foot square of space for your Three Sisters garden is the minimum area needed to ensure good corn pollination. If you have a small garden, you can plant fewer mounds, but be aware that you may not get good full corn ears as a result.
How to plant:
Please refer to the diagrams below and to individual seed packets for additional growing information.
1. Choose a site in full sun (minimum 6-8 hours/day of direct sunlight throughout the growing season). Amend the soil with plenty of compost or aged manure, since corn is a heavy feeder and the nitrogen from your beans will not be available to the corn during the first year. With string, mark off three ten-foot rows, five feet apart.
2. In each row, make your corn/bean mounds. The center of each mound should be 5 feet apart from the center of the next. Each mound should be 18 across with flattened tops. The mounds should be staggered in adjacent rows. See Diagram #1
3. Plant 4 corn seeds in each mound in a 6 square. See Diagram #2
4. When the corn is 4 tall, its time to plant the beans and squash. First, weed the entire patch. Then plant 4 bean seeds in each corn mound. They should be 3 apart from the corn plants, completing the square as shown in Diagram #3.
5. Build your squash mounds in each row between each corn/bean mound. Make them the same size as the corn/bean mounds. Plant 3 squash seeds, 4 apart in a triangle in the middle of each mound as shown in Diagram #4.
6. When the squash seedlings emerge, thin them to 2 plants per mound. You may have to weed the area several times until the squash take over and shade new weeds.
Links to Legends about the Three Sisters:
Creasy, Rosalind, “Cooking from the Garden”, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1988
Eames-Sheavly, Marcia, “The Three Sisters, Exploring an Iroquois Garden”, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, 1993
Hays, Wilma and R. Vernon, “Foods the Indians Gave Us”, Ives Washburn, Inc. NY, 1973