Native American: Three Sisters Garden

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How to Plant a Three Sisters Garden

Three Sisters Garden Resources

What do you like best?

What three sisters garden item do you like best?

What do you like best?
corn: 3 votes (60%)
squash: 2 votes (40%)
beans: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 5

Creating a Three Sisters Garden

  1. Plan and select a site. You'll want to plant your three sisters garden in late spring once the danger of frost has passed. Choose a site that has direct sunshine for most of the day and access to water.
  2. Prepare the soil. First, break up and rake the soil. Next, build a mound about 12 inches high and between 18 inches and 3 feet in diameter. If you're in a dry area, flatten the top of the mound and make a shallow depression to keep water from running off.
  3. Plant corn. Soak four to seven corn seeds overnight and then plant them about 6 inches apart in the center of each mound. (You'll eventually thin to three or four seedlings.) Many Native people honor the tradition of giving thanks to the "Four Directions" by orienting the corn seeds to the north, south, east, and west.
  4. Plant beans and squash. After a week or two, when the corn is at least 4 inches high, soak and then plant six pole bean seeds in a circle about 6 inches away from the corn. (You'll eventually thin to three or four bean seedlings.) At about the same time, plant four squash or pumpkin seeds next to the mound, about a foot away from the beans, eventually thinning to one. If you are planting a large area, you can also sow the squash in separate mounds (1 foot in diameter) between every few corn and bean mounds.
  5. Consider other additions. Consider planting other traditional crops, such as sunflowers or jerusalem artichokes (a tuberous perennial sunflower), around at the edge of the three sisters garden. Put them on the north side so they won't shade your other plants. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other native crops are often planted in nearby plots. (Some of the many other indigenous plants used by native North, South, and Central Americans include melon, tobacco, chili pepper, cotton, blueberry, wild rice, and hazelnuts.)

  6. Maintain your traditional garden. As corn plants grow, weed gently around them and mound soil around the base of each stem for support. When the corn is knee-high and again when silks appear on the husks, "side-dress" by putting a high nitrogen fertilizer (such as aged manure or fish emulsion) on the soil surface near each plant. If beans aren't winding their way around the corn, youngsters can help by moving tendrils to the stalks. (Keen observers may notice a pattern in the direction in which the bean vines wind.) To allow room for corn and beans to grow, gently direct squash vines into walkways, garden edges, or between mounds.
  7. Click here to learn more:

Legend of the Three Sisters Garden

History of the Three Sisters Garden

Native Americans referred to beans, corn and squash as the "three sisters" since they grow so well together. Corn stalks provide a "pole" for the pole beans to grow on. The fuzzy, irritating hairs on the squash leaves protect the beans and the corn from being eaten by animals. This is one of the life-saving bits of information that the Native people shared with the Pilgrims after they (barely) survived that first winter.

Native American Gardening Books

Native American Gardening: Buffalobird-Woman's Guide to Traditional Methods

      By: Gilbert L. Wilson 

Native American Gardening; Storyies, Projects and Recipes for Families

     By:  Michael J. Caduto


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In the Three Sisters Garden

    By:  JoAnne Dennee; Julia Hand; Jack Peduzzi; Carolyn Peduzzi