A New Twist on the
Three Sisters Garden Layout, Planting Methods and History
History of the Three Sisters Garden
Three Sisters Garden is an American Indian tradition that was
introduced to to the English Pilgrims after making their way to the New
World. When they landed, they had very little knowledge of farming or
how to survive in
their new surroundings. As a result, only half of the 102 Pilgrim
settlers survived their first winter.
It was a Patuxet Indian,
called Squanto who taught the Pilgrims of Plymouth how to hunt for
their food, tap the maple sap and plant important crops for their
survival. It was Squanto who introduced them to the Indian tradition of
corn, squash and beans together that has today become known as the 3
today, we talk about growing things and building things that have
several purposes. But as you can see, this is not a new concept. The
Indians were growing peas, beans and cucumbers up corn stalks long
before the word permaculture was coined.
It was the Iroquois
who first started the system of planting corn, beans and squash
together in a system that works exceptionally well together. Each plant
grows to benefit the other.
Purpose Behind a Three Sisters Garden
- The beans grow, fixing nitrogen into the soil.
- The squash, with their
shallow roots provide shade to the
roots and help keep the weeds down. Pumpkins are also one of the few
vegetables that do really well in partial shade.
corn, benefitting from both the soil mulch and the extra nitrogen, are
supports for either the peas or beans if they are the climbing variety.
Three Sisters Garden Layout, Spacing and Method of Growing
So how do you grow a
three sisters garden? Taking a 15x15
foot square plot, mark
off 3 x15 foot rows, 5 feet
Now you need to get your spacing right. Plant out your corn seeds in
the hills spaced 5 feet apart, planting 4
seeds per hill. Each hill being 18 inches in diameter.
until your corn plants are at least 4-6 inches tall before you plant
your bean or
pea seeds inbetween the corn at the base, on this same hill. This is
important, because if you plant all the seeds out at the same time,
your corn stalks will not be strong enough to carry the weight of the
Now, you can now plant your pumpkin or squash seeds using the
same hill method. Each hill is again 18 inches in diameter and you can
plant 4 seeds per hill. The hills are created in between the rows of
the corn and beans.
An Infographic on How to Grow a Three Sisters Garden
Here is an infographic
that I prepared for you showing images of the
layout of the garden, the spacings of the various plants and the
reasoning behind planting corn, beans and squash this way.
Best Types of Squash, Corn and Beans for a Three Sisters
with regards to corn, I like the sweetcorn variety, rather
the Indian corn. However, this is just a matter of taste, and you can
grow any type of corn here. However, make sure that our corn grows
tall. Those that grow 6-7 feet are ideal.
good corn varieties are:
Golden Bantam, Country Gentleman, Stowell's Evergreen,
is an excellent tall variety of corn growing 10 - 12 feet high. It is
good for corn on the cob, and when mature making flour and corn meal.
Although the Golden Bantam is lovely and
sweet it only grows to 5 feet, whereas Country Gentleman
grows to 7 feet and is excellent for canning and making creamed
good bean varieties are:
The types of beans you need to plant will be the climbing variety.
However, you may find that your beans may need additional support if
the variety you have used climbs really high, as your corn or
sunflowers just won't be tall enough to give them the support that you
for example, is a good climbing b eanvariety but too tall for a Three
Sister Garden as it grows 8-10 feet tall, unless you are growing them
with together with Bloody Butcher corn,
which is the one corn variety tall enough to be grown together.
Climbing French beans, runner beans or borlotti beans
are all suitable for your three sisters garden.
Tips for Successful Three Sisters Gardens
- Always wait until your corn has grown 4
inches before planting the bean seeds and squash seeds.
If not you will end up with a tangle of plants each smothering the
other and the corn will be buried under the beans rather than
- Make sure that you space the plants correctly,
for the same reason. You don't want too much shade, especially for your
squash and watermelon.
- Plant squash types that grow horizontally
and are not too bushy. Zucchinis are not good for this type of system.
- Plant tall varieties of corn to support the
right variety of beans.
Three Sisters Garden where the corn and beans were planted at the same
time. This smothered the corn and the taller
beans had to be given additional support.
Three Sister Garden
Of course there are
other vegetables you can plant, using this method. There are three
sister gardens where instead of corn
sunflowers are grown instead. Both of these plants work well, for
providing the scaffolding for the beans to grow upwards.
And, if you are not fond of pumpkin or squash,
then you could plant
melons or watermelons. Baby sugar melons do well with this method of
Instead of beans you can
grow peas, or even sweetpeas up the corn stalks.
So grow a slice of living
history in your vegetable
gardens with your kids by growing a three
sister garden of your own.
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