The Three Sisters: Effective Gardening

Hello garden community! It’s Emily here again. We recently had a community plot that was never assigned to a community member, so Ellen, Aly, and I decided to make use of it. We wanted to utilize the space we had to the best of our abilities, so we started doing some research. In the mist of our research, one of the community members (Cathy Myers) suggested the idea of the “Three Sisters” gardening method. Having never heard of this gardening style before, she educated us on the topic.

The name “Three Sisters” refers to the three crops, corn, beans, and squash, that the Native Americans believed only grew and thrived when grown together. Corn was the primary crop to eat, providing the most calories to the people, the structure for the beans, and the shade for the squash. So you would plant the corn to start then have the beans and squash planted a little after the corn grows. Now, with small space, it’s hard to plant these but you can do it effectively.

So, the minimum plot size you need for the Three Sisters is a 10 x 10 square. The designated plot should get a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day, prepped with lots of compost. The corn will need the nourishment since it deprives a lot of nutrients from the soil as it grows. Decide how many rows you want to make, depending on how many seeds you have then have the rows be a few feet away from one another. In those rows, start to make mounds about 2 -4 inches off the soil top like the picture below to improve drainage and soil warmth.

corn_mound

When making the mounds, make sure the centers of each mound are 5 feet away from one another. The standard size mounds are about 18 inches in diameter and should be shattered in adjacent rows shown below.

diagram

The mounds allow the crops to get the right amount of moisture and allow the environment of the crops to fit them. Then, plant 4 corn seeds in each mound about 6 inches apart.

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Wait about a week or so after this is done. When the corn is 4 inches tall, plant the beans and the squash. Don’t forget to weed before you plant. When you plant the beans, they should be in between two corn seedlings. You can see in the picture below.

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Now it’s time to build your squash mounds the same way you built your corn mounds. Just remember to put the squash mounds in between the corn and bean mounds. When planting the seeds, plant 3 squash seeds 4 inches apart in sort of a triangle formation in the mound, as you can see below.

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When the squash seedlings begin to grow in, just remember to thin them to 2 seedlings per mound! You will have to weed your mounds until the squash grow in but after that, you should be weeding a whole lot less!

So far, I’ve talked about how this technique can save you space but let me tell you some more fun facts as to why it’s better to grow this way! The three crops compliment each other when growing by producing nutrients that one another needs. While the corn provides structure, the beans provide nitrogen for the corn to thrive off of. This makes the soil rich in nitrogen and able to support more crops the following year. Squash also naturally produces a spinier stem so it will ward off predators from trying to eat the garden. Also, when the squash vines die along with the beans and corn, they become the perfect mulch for the soil for the following years! I hoped you enjoyed this gardening method! Here’s a picture of what a full-grown gardening plot of the “Three Sisters” look like. See you next time!

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