Companion Planting: The Three Sisters
For generations, Native Americans successfully fed their populations through the "three sisters" method of interplanting corn, pole beans & squash, a practice that European settlers in the New World adopted.
Today, because it's such an effective way to grow the three vegetables, many practical gardeners still plant the "three sisters."
THE THREE SISTERS
Corn, pole beans & squash
Companion planting is the practice of interplanting different plant species to improve plant growth and productivity, and reduce pest damage.
Companion planting was practiced by many Native American tribes, several of whom interplanted corn, pole beans and squash, referring to them as "the three sisters."
Typically, three sisters gardens are planted in circles or hills.
First, the corn is planted. Then, when corn plants are a few inches high, the beans and squash are sown. The squash will be the last vegetable harvested from a three sisters garden in the fall.
With their tall, straight stalks, corn plants provide a support for pole beans, which are natural climbers.
Corn plants also cool the climbing pole beans in hot weather. During transpiration, the thick green leaves of corn plants lose water, releasing it into the air and cooling the beans when temperatures rise.
In turn, pole bean plants (like other legumes) "fix" the nitrogen in the soil, converting nitrogen gas to ammonium and making it accessible to themselves as well as the corn and the squash. (Plants need lots of nitrogen for optimal growth!)
The blossoms of bean plants also attract many pollinators, as do the blossoms of squash plants.
Pole beans also tend to produce more yields over a longer period of time than bush beans. Many gardeners prefer the flavor and texture of flat-pod Roman green snap pole beans, which are also available in bush varieties.
Do you practice companion planting?
In addition to attracting pollinators with their blossoms, squash plants also serve as living mulch, suppressing weeds and helping the soil retain moisture as their broad leaves shade the ground from the hot summer sun.
The prickly, pungent leaves of squash plants also deter some pests.
THE THREE SISTERS
Beans, corn & squash: A nutritional powerhouse
Not only do corn, beans and squash grow well together, but they also complement each other nutritionally, making a healthy meal when eaten together.
Corn provides carbohydrates. Beans contain protein, and squash is filled with vitamins. Squash seeds also contain nutrient-rich oil.
Combined, beans, corn and squash are a nutritional powerhouse!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm. Together, they would plant acres of vegetable gardens, setting tomato, eggplant and bell pepper plants; sowing row after row of beans and corn, and mounds of white squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe and potatoes.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.