Here’s how planting a Three Sisters Garden can save you time, energy, water, and space – while enriching your soil and producing more food at the same time…
Some of the best gardening techniques were not created using modern technology and machinery, but passed down from generation to generation as farming wisdom based on experience. One such gardening technique is known as the “Three Sisters Garden” method. Instead of a modern garden layout, with plants arranged in separate rows and usually separate beds, the Three Sisters Garden is a method of growing corn, beans, and squash plants all together to provide these plants’ unique symbiotic relationship to benefit all three types of plants, as well as the soil and even the gardener!
When you grow these three crops together, they tend to produce more food than when grown separately, while using less water and fertilizer – and they require less weeding. It’s a win-win for everyone!
If you want to try the Three Sisters Garden method for yourself, here are a few tips and things to know before you get started, according to TheGrowNetwork.com.
The beauty of a Three Sisters Garden comes from the symbiotic relationship between these three crops.
- As corn stalks grow, they create poles for beans to climb on to gain support and find sunlight without getting outcompeted by the sprawling squash.
- The bean roots also help stabilize the corn in heavy winds and fertilize it by “fixing” nitrogen from the air into a form that corn and squash roots can absorb.
- The squash’s large leaves are prickly enough to deter pests from coming close, and they shade out weeds while keeping the soil moist.
There are plenty of variations for laying out a Three Sisters Garden, but it’s always best to plant your corn in clusters instead of rows. This makes it easier to attract pollinating insects for your squash plants and for wind-pollinated corn tassels to fertilize each other.
Make sure you choose a spot with plenty of direct sunlight and a neutral pH level (6.0–7.0 is best).
Minimal space is needed for a Three Sisters Garden. A 10-foot-by-10-foot plot tends to be ideal. That’s a small enough space to be fairly simple to prepare and maintain while ensuring that you sow enough corn (about 10–20 plants) for it to cross-pollinate.
To set up a traditional Three Sisters Garden in a 10-foot-by-10-foot plot, mark off three rows spaced five feet apart. Each row will have five 18-inch mounds, alternating corn/bean mounds with squash mounds.
Sowing a Three Sisters Garden takes a little longer from start to finish, but the steps are simple—and the results are oh so worth it!
- Start by fertilizing the garden bed with your favorite amendments.
- Form the soil into flat mounds that are a foot high and 18 inches in diameter.
- Alternate the corn/bean mounds with the squash mounds.
- Stagger the planting by species to create a “stacked” garden that gives the corn and/or sunflowers a few weeks’ head start. This also prevents the plants from outcompeting each other in their beginning growth stages.
- Once the danger of frost has passed, plant four kernels of corn an inch deep and six inches apart, with each kernel forming one of the four points of a diamond shape.
- Once the corn reaches five inches tall, plant four bean seeds in a pattern that adds corners to your diamond shape, effectively making it a square.
- Squash seeds should be planted one week later in the remaining mounds. In each mound, plant three squash seeds four inches apart in a triangle shape.
- Make sure to hill up the soil as it starts to level out so that there is plenty of material for the root systems to work with.