Companion Plants: The Three Sisters

The three sisters planting method is an ancient and sustainable method of companion planting. Originating with Native Americans, the three sister’s method consists of planting of corn, beans, and squash in close proximity.

All three of the plants are an essential part of the companion planting system. The corn provides the tall stalks for the beans to climb and the squash provides the ground cover outcompeting many of the weeds and acts like living mulch for the beans and squash. In addition, beans are a nitrogen fixing plant and provide nitrogen back into the soil thereby ensuring the maize and the squash have proper nutrition to grown.

These plants also help each other out nutritionally. Beans provide the necessary protein missing in corn and squash. The corn provides carbohydrates and the squash provides a plethora of vitamins. Combined, the three plants provide for a nutrious and complex diet.

These three plants rely on the streanth of the others in order to survive; they are, in fact, a risk reduction strategy to ensure that at least one of the primary crops will survive through harvest. Beans, for example, will withstand the strong winds that may mow down corn and shred the leaves of the squash. A well-rooted corn plant will stand up to the droughts that may wilt the beans or the squash.

Native Americans perfected this companion plant growing technique. Most notable are the ancient Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloan peoples, who are known for adopting the three sisters’ method in their dry farming techniques of the ancient American Southwest.

Three Sisters companion planting yields a bountiful harvest

Other Native American cultures, most notably the Tewa of New Mexico are known for adding a fourth sister to the mix of companion plants: Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Bee plant not only attracts bees to help pollinate the beans and squash but the leaves and seedpods are edible, tasting similar to spinach when cooked. In addition; the flowers of Rocky Mountain bee plant can be boiled down to a molasses–type consistency and used to create the black pigment on the Puebloan’s beautiful black on white pottery.

In order to plant your own sustainable three sisters garden, the corn must be planted in several rows to ensure adequate pollination. Choose pole beans and squashes that run in vines rather than bushes. Ensure that your garden plot is subject to full sun (at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight). When the corn is 4 inches tall it is time to plant the beans and squash. Ensure the area is free of weeds and the beans are close enough to the corn to climb. Soon the three sisters companion plants will work together to provide you with a nutritious and sustainable garden.v -KATHY FAIRCHILD

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