Three Sisters Gardening: Corn, Beans and Squash
Corn. Beans. Squash.
For centuries, these three crops have been the center of Native American agriculture and culinary traditions.
Corn, beans and squash are known as the “Three Sisters” as they complement each other while growing in the garden, as well as nutritionally on your plate.
Volunteers gave their time and labor this past weekend as they joined us to put in our Three Sisters Garden at Second Harvest’s warehouses, the first of our demonstration beds to be planted this spring.
A Three Sisters garden is a simple way for your family, school, place of worship or food pantry to grow extra nutritious fresh staple food for people facing food insecurity in Northwest North Carolina.
Why Three Sisters?
When planted together, these crops assist each other in growing and also, harvested, provide a solid nutritional base to any diet.
Corn, beans and squash are complimentary crops. Corn provides tall stalks for the beans to climb so that they are not out-competed by sprawling squash vines, which take up significant ground space per plant. In return, the beans stabilize the corn in high winds by acting as tethers, as well as providing nitrogen to the soil. The large, broad leaves of the squash plants provide shade on the ground, preventing over-drying and weeds.
Corn, beans and squash are also at the center of culinary traditions and complement one another nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates and the dried beans are rich in protein and have amino acids that are absent in corn. Squash provides Vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Magnesium, and is also a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese.
These three crops are also important to Native Americans and, now, the Food Bank because they can all be dried and used for food year round.
How to Plant
While many tribes and communities grew and grow these crops together, the term “Three Sisters” originated with the Iroquois, in the Great Lakes region. Traditional Iroquois Three Sisters plantings created mounds, where all three seed types were planted together in the same mound.
At Second Harvest, our demonstration gardens use a “square foot” gardening method, as a way to show how much one can grow in a small space. Therefore, our Three Sisters garden has been adapted to the square foot gardening method.
To do this, we planted the corn at the intersections of our grid, and planted the beans one inch out from the corn. We then seeded two squash plants in each square.