Gardening 101: The Three Sisters

three sisters garden

Grow a Healthier Garden with This Ancient Gardening Tip(Image via)

I was browsing Facebook recently when I came across this meme:

gardening tip

I'm new to this whole gardening thing, so I decided to do a little research on this gardening technique and share my findings with you. Hopefully this tip will help us all grow more fruitful, healthier gardens this year.

The Three Sisters

The technique described above is called “The Three Sisters” (in reference to the three vegetables involved.) It is also known as companion gardening.

These three plants — corn (or maize), beans and squash — were the main agricultural crops for most Native American tribes, according to Wikipedia.

According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. Growing a Three Sisters garden is a wonderful way to feel more connected to the history of this land, regardless of our ancestry. (Source)

How it Works

The Three Sisters garden works so well because the plants compliment one another without “choking out” the other plants or depriving them of vital nutrients.

Corn stalks provide a natural pole for beans to climb. Meanwhile, the oxygen-rich beans enrich the soil and keep all the plants in the oxygen healthy and thriving. Finally, the squash grow low to the ground, blocking out sunlight and preventing the growth of weeds. Squash vines also act as a natural mulch, providing more rich nutrients to the soil.


The three plants are also nutritionally complimentary, with the corn providing carbohydrates, the beans providing protein, and the squash providing a variety of much-needed vitamins and nutrients.

Amazingly, early Native Americans who planted their crops using this strategy did not have the modern scientific knowledge or vocabulary that we have today. They may not have understood why this technique worked, but they knew that it did, and they relied on their environment to tell them when and what to plant.

They often look for signs in their environment that indicate the right soil temperature and weather for planting corn, i.e. when the Canada geese return or the dogwood leaves reach the size of a squirrels ear. You may wish to record such signs as you observe in your garden and neighborhood so that, depending on how well you judged the timing, you can watch for them again next season! (Source)

In a later article, we'll talk about these environmental signs and how we can incorporate them into our modern-day gardening.

How to Plant Your Three Sisters Garden

Planting a garden using the Three Sisters technique requires skill and precision. Each crop must be planted at just the right time in order to flourish and get the benefits of the other two crops.

(Image via)

(Image via)

Have you ever grown a Three Sisters garden? Share your experiences and tips in the comments section below!

And be sure to follow our friends at Pioneer Settler for the best and latest gardening tips, tricks and trends.


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Gardening 101: The Three Sisters

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