The Three Sisters: Beans, Corn and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “three sisters?” A number of Native Americans always inter-planted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant a three sisters vegetable patch.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

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Image from AN IROQUOIS AGRICULTURAL FIELD at the NEW YORK STATE MUSEUM

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced growing conditions from a single planting. 

As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans needed support to grow and become vibrant. The beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.. As the beans grow through the spaghetti junction of squash vines and wind their way up the corn stalks into the sunlight they hold the sisters close together. The large leaves of the winding squash protect the three sisters by creating mulch that shades the soil, keeping it moist and preventing pesky weeds.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as an organic meal.

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