How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

Welcome! Today’s installment of Tuesdays in the Garden includes helpful gardening tips and tricks from me and my gardening buddies. I’m excited to share information on how to grow a Three Sisters Garden! Read to the end to see what helpful tips and tricks my gardening friends have for you this week too!

How to grow a three sisters garden

If you’d like to learn how to grow a three sisters garden, you’re in the right place. Growing a 3 sisters garden is a great way to try out an age old agricultural method that was used by Native Americans to feed huge populations. It’s the ultimate in companion planting and is a lot of fun to grow!

What is a Three Sisters Garden?

If you’ve never heard of a Three Sisters Garden, you’re in for a treat as they are just amazing to grow and harvest! In a 3 sisters garden, corn serves as poles for beans, and squash is grown in between to help keep the weeds down. The corn provides shade for the squash, and the beans provide nitrogen for the corn. Instead of depleting the ground of nutrients, this growing method leaves the soil richer than it started.  It’s a win-win combo and a lot of fun grow.

The Cherokee Three Sisters Legend

Once there were three girls, Corn Girl, Squash Girl,and Bean Girl. {Like my own daughters}, these sisters didn’t get along very well because they each wanted to be independent and free. Poor Corn Girl couldn’t move and ended up hungry and with sunburned feet. Bean Girl lay on the ground getting dirty and wet because she had nothing to climb. And the little fat sister Squash Girl was hungry too. Once they decided to work together and help each other, they lived happliy ever after and were able to produce more food together than they had been able to produce on their own.

How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden

In my area of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, the Meskawki and Sauk Indians lived in huge summer cities with populations over 5,000 people. They worked together farming huge three sisters gardens to provide food for an entire year to feed their people. I first learned about 3 Sisters Gardens by visiting the Hauberg Indian Museum at Black Hawk Park. This museum is small, but oh so interesting – well worth the visit if you’re in the area! It’s so amazing to me that ancient farming practices yield so much for ancient peoples.

Yield from my 3 sisters garden

Growing a three sisters garden is pretty easy as long as you have the room. You’ll need a 10′ x 10′ area at the minimum, corn, pole beans, and squash that grows in trails rather than bushes.

  1. Plant 6-7 corn seeds in three foot hills. Corn is usually pollinated in rows, so you will need multiple hills in order for the corn to pollinate correctly and develop nice ears.

  2. Space the hills 4 feet a part.

  3. Once the corn has popped up and is about 4 inches tall, thin to 4-5 plants per hill. Plant 4 bean seeds around each corn stalk. Also plant the squash in separate mounds between the corn hills.

  4. You’ll probably have to weed the area a couple of times before the squash is big enough to keep the weeds down on its own.

  5. Then just let everything grow. I grew beans for dried beans and corn for popcorn or cornmeal, and just let everything dry on the stalk or vines. The squash I harvested as they were ready! And that’s it! Super easy!

Scenes from my 3 Sisters Garden from last year.
Scenes from my 3 sisters garden

So far in 2016, I have planted my corn. I’m waiting on it to pop up so I can plant my squash and beans. I’ll keep you updated on its progress this year – make sure you’re following along on  Tuesdays in the Garden and on Instagram!

For more resources on Three Sisters Garden

Renees Garden – Three Sisters Garden. This is the site I used for reference to grow my first garden last year. She’s got a planting chart you can use for reference.

Mother Earth News – Native American Garden. Great info. They’ve also got a useful post on useful seed varieties too.

Quatro.us – Three Sisters the Legend. Fun story about the legend of the 3 Sisters!

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Have you grown a Three Sisters Garden, or will you try?? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Comments

  1. Hi Michelle this is so interesting! I love the old legend. It's so useful to remember stories like this to keep the garden plan in my head at planting and garden planning time . Those old ways have a lot of value:) We actually almost did this! Our corn is in square block patches this year and the squash is planted in hills in between those blocks. Our hill beans are close by. Not exactly your plan, but close! Happy Gardening!
  2. I wish I had an area big enough to give this a try, but my raised bed just aren't big enough. This is such a great idea. I'll have to remember it so if we end up with a bigger garden someday, I can give it a try.
  3. I've always wanted to try this, Michelle, but always thought the beans would be shaded - your timing tips are perfect!

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