Three Sisters

dent corn for cornmeal

I’ve read a lot about a planting arrangement that’s centuries old and began with Native Americans. This is called Three Sisters, and involves planting corn, beans and squash together.  For some very specific reasons!

There is a process to the planting, also for specific reasons. The oldest Sister is corn. In our case we will plant some Hopi blue corn that was given to me by a friend.  This corn is never eaten fresh but is left on the stalks to dry and then is ground for corn meal.  My friend makes blue corn bread; how neat would that be.  I’ve never grow corn, but it’s time to give it a shot.

You plant 6 kernels of corn in a small circle, the size of a 5 gallon bucket. Corn needs the wind for pollination, so your small amounts of corn, as opposed to a whole field, need to be close together.

Once the corn is about 6″: tall, you mound some ground up around the stalk, maybe 2-3″ high.  Then you plant the next Sister, 4 or 6 pole/climbing bean seeds near where the ground is mounded up, in a circle around the corn.  (The corn has to get some size before you plant the beans or they will overrun the corn.)

A week or two later, after the beans have sprouted, plant the youngest Sister, squash, 4 or 6 seeds, outside of the circle of bean seeds.

Corn plants have shallow roots and the younger Sister beans will actually help to hold their older Sister up, and also lean on her as they grow tall.  The squash helps to hold in moisture because the plants get lush and stay on the ground.  The beans take nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil that to help the others. It’s a relationship where each benefits the others, and Native Americans use a lot of these three items in their cooking, so many generations ago they  developed this wonderful practice of planting. A Native American  internet friend I’ve developed on a FB page remembers his grandmother planting Three Sisters every year, always the same way, since that is the historical way and gave her good crops of all three things. He even told me how many seeds of each kind she planted.  Miigwech for the good info, niigii.

It’s going to be good in our case that both the corn and beans we’ll plant will be left to dry. Planting the beans after the corn is 6″ tall will make them mature later than most of my beans ever do, in the fall, and that’s ok in our zone. These practices were started in hot and dry climates so we have to adapt a little for our shorter growing season here.

I’ll be back to tell about how Three Sister worked here.  Now if the squirrels just let us have some corn…………..

8 responses to “Three Sisters

  1. It works well and adapts well! I have versions in my garden each year. My plot is so small that corn isn’t practical in terms of yield, so I use sunflowers instead. feeding the birds and drawing pollinators. Take pictures!

  2. Pingback: The beginning of the garden | Sarasin's thoughts.......·

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