If you have a small garden plot and don’t like digging it up every year, Three Sisters gardening may be for you! This is a Native American gardening technique that is at least 1,000 years old and can be varied to climate conditions.
The Three Sisters are: Corn, Pole Beans, Vined Squash.
Corn is a heavy feeder and susceptible to high winds. The pole beans fix nitrogen into the soil and provide additional support for the corn. The squash also provides nutrients to the soil, but is grown for a living mulch and to keep the deer and raccoon out of the corn. There is a nice “just the facts please” article HERE on Wiki.
In wet or cold (a mound will allow the earth to warm faster and hence you can plant earlier) climates, you want to mound your plants. In dry climates you want to dig a depression to retain as much moisture as possible. If you are getting the normal 40″ per year that most vegetables desire, just dig a circle.
Corn needs other corn in close proximity around it for best pollination – no pollination and you get no kernels of corn. This is why you never plant corn in a single row. By planting corn in a tightly confined circle you will get optimum pollination of the plants.
If you have ever planted pole beans, you know that they will just take over a climbing structure. The pole beans will bind the corn together providing maximum wind resistance. The flowers on the beans will also attract pollinator insects.
The squash will help retain moisture in the ground and stunt weed growth by shading the area. Its flowers will also attract pollinating insects.
Plant the corn first, the beans a week later (to give the corn a chance to get up and growing, and the squash a week later.
Let’s say you want one or two meals of corn on the cob for X weeks. Plant X mounds successively and you will have Three Sisters dining for as long as your growing season holds. Depending upon how YOU like to put your veggies up, you can plant for some work all summer or just work at canning the whole crop in a few days. Squash for the most part will winter quite well in a cool, dry area.
Don’t sweat this one, just have fun. Above is a garden pot sunk in for watering. Six corn are planted around that pot. The beans are on the outside of the corn a week later, and 4 squash plants are planted a week later from the beans. Squash does not like watering from above so this is perfect if you may not drought or the kids are watering they have something to aim at.
We all learn differently. Below is a series of two videos by the same man who not only explains and shows Three Sisters gardening, but also gives us an update and his opinions.
Update on 3 sisters