Three Sisters Garden

Best Way to Plant Pole Beans, Squash and Corn

Native Americans were notable for their ability to understand nature and how to grow their own food, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the creation of the Three Sisters garden. The “three sisters” were the vegetables: corn, beans, and squash — plants that seem to grow better together than they do apart, and which provide more nutrition when eaten together because they make up what’s called a “complete protein.”

So how does this epic planting system work? Actually, the simplicity (as well as the efficiency) is pretty amazing. Here are the details to grow your own Three Sisters garden.

The Concept: The tall and sturdy corn stalks provide support for the vining bean plant, while the beans’ roots provide nitrogen-fixing bacteria by pulling nitrogen out of the air to share with the corn. Then, the large squash leaves provide shade to minimize weeds and conserve moisture for all three plants.

The Process: 

1. Choose heirloom varieties of corn, pole beans, and squash. A combination of sweet corn, stringless green beans, and zucchini are ideal, but make sure to choose plant varieties that are recommended for your area.

2. Plant all three plants in small groups, spaced out 2 ½ – 3 feet apart.

3. Plant small groups in “hills.” These hills are raised mounds for better drainage in wet areas or shallow depressions to catch and absorb water in dry areas.

4. Plant hills in blocks. This block or grid pattern (rather than a straight line pattern) aids in pollination, which leads to better vegetable formation and increased harvest.

5. Plant corn first, followed by beans and squash. According to the recommendations for planting times in your area, plant your corn plant or sow your corn seeds first. When the corn is about 6” tall, plant 2-3 bean seeds about 6” from the base of each corn plant. Finally, plant 2-3 squash seeds (spaced about 6” apart) in their own hills between the hills of corn and beans.

6. Keep weeded until squash vines grow to cover the ground. Do this by mulching or hoeing until squash vines are large enough to shade out the weeds below.

Click here to support Slow Food USA’s Plant a Seed Campaign by ordering your own Three Sisters “Plant a Seed” Seed Kit.

1 Comment
  • Barbara dean
    Posted at 15:22h, 02 May Reply

    Wanted to do this a long time. This year is igt.. been ill for 5 or 6 years but now is the time. I am 84.

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