The Three Sisters Garden: Corn, Beans and Squash

Spring is finally here, and this year some of us might be finding ourselves with a bit more time on our hands than usual. If you don’t already take advantage of the gifts of Nature than this year would be the perfect time to start dabbling in some gardening.

Did you know, corn, beans and squash are referred to as ‘the three sisters’ and is a gardening rule of thumb that was used by our ancestors from many hundred years ago? A number of indigenous families from various territories have, for centuries, interplanted the three vegetables together because of how well they thrive with each other. Their inseparableness and ability to support and rely on one another is what earned them their name of the three sisters.

By the time European settlers had arrived, indigenous people had already been growing the Three Sisters together for many generations. The vegetable trio sustained the people both physically, nutritionally, and spiritually. The plants were (and still are) considered to be a gift given from Creator and the Spirit World, and are always to be grown, consumed, and celebrated together.

Each sister individually contributes something to the garden while providing a balance in nutrition for its growers in a single planting. The corn, considered the oldest sister, offers support for the beans as the climb and grow- as older sisters do in life. The beans, considered the giving sister, pulls nitrogen from the air into the soil to aid all three plants while they grow. The beans also hold the three sisters close together as the wind and weave through all the plants. The squash, the youngest sister, shelters the garden with its large and prickly leaves acting like a “living mulch”. It shades the soil, keeping it from getting too dry and hot and protects the garden from weeds. The prickly leaves also deter small critters and pest.

Planting a Three Sisters garden is very simple! Before beginning to plant your seeds (directly into the ground) it is beneficial to prep the soil for increased fertility by adding fish scraps or wood ash. The corn is the first of the seeds to be planted with proper spacing kept in mind. Once the corn has sprouted and your seedlings are about 5 inches tall, plant four bean seeds around each corn stalk. Approximately a week after planting the bean seeds, plant the squash seeds around the perimeter of your garden, making sure each seed has enough space. And just like that…you have yourself a Three Sisters garden!

There is no better way to celebrate and give thanks for this ancient planting tool, and the gift of the Three Sisters for nourishing and providing for us and our ancestors and future generations, than to educate yourself on its simplicity and experiment to be able to carry on the knowledge. Get outside and start planting!

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