Three Sisters

Three Sisters Plantings: Beans, Squash, Corn.three_sisters

Annapolis Seeds plant a large three sisters garden at their farm every season

Here’s how they do it.

The three sisters of Corn, Beans and Squash are a traditional polyculture grown by many native cultures across North America. All three sisters are interdependent and help the others grow. The corn supports the climbing pole beans, the beans as legumes add nitrogen to the soil and the squash sprawls over the surface of the soil shading out competing weeds.

To grow a Three Sisters garden I find it’s best to plant the seeds in hills, which traditionally would be enriched with fish waste as a nutrient boost. I usually enrich the hills with composted manure myself, since it’s what I have on hand. Each hill should be about 1‘ high and perhaps twice as wide, with a flattened or bowl shaped top

To give the plants enough space hills should be about 4’-5‘ feet apart, from centre to centre. In a  small garden hills could probably be closer, as long as the beans and squash have access to sunlight

A mistake I’ve made in the past is to plant things too densely, in which case the corn did great but it didn’t allow any light in to the other sisters.

In the middle area of the hill, plant 4-6 corn seeds, and around the outside a similar number of squash. Planting should be done in late May, or whenever the risk of frost is past in your area. Give the corn a 2-3 week head start, and then plant the beans at the base of the young corn seedlings, that way the fast growing pole beans don’t overwhelm the slower corn.

You’ll want to eventually thin each hill to 3-4 healthy corn plants. If you’re up for experimenting, other crops can make great additions to the polyculture also. Both amaranth and sunflowers have been traditionally grown either alongside or as a replacement for the corn, and I’ve had success using cucumbers as the ground cover instead of squash. I’m sure many others would be good additions also, you’re only limited by your imagination!

Here at the farm our Three Sisters Garden is always one of the summer highlights. After comparing yields for the area that it takes up, I’ve been really impressed by how productive a system it is! The individual yields of each crop might be down somewhat from what each one would produce planted as a monocrop, but the fact that we’re getting three crops in the same space makes it extremely space efficient

Comparing a 30’ x 30’ plot of Three Sisters to an equal sized plot of each individual crop, we harvest something like 75% the corn yield, and perhaps 50% of the beans and squash, but add those up and you get 175% the harvest from the same space!
All the while it being a much more resilient and diverse garden, needing much less human input.





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