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The Right Way to Grow the Three Sisters of the Field

Many gardeners have heard of this technique of growing corn, pole beans and squash together. A lot of what is on the Internet does not explain it correctly, so you may just be surprised to know:

young winter squash
  • The beans fix nitrogen into the soil, which the corn loves.
  • The corn supports the beans.
  • The vines of the winter squash help keep away deer.
  • All three sisters are allowed to mature in the field and are harvested together. Yes, my friends, the main reason the indigenous people of this country planted these three together was so that they could simply return in the fall to harvest them at once.

The corn they grew is what is referred to as field corn. The ears are allowed to dry in the husk. The corn was later ground into corn meal or used to feed livestock. The squash was winter squash that prefers at least one frost before being harvested. The beans were also allowed to mature in the field. You see, what they grew were dry beans.

Pretty smart, don’t you think?

If you want to try this in your garden, here’s what to do:

  • Plant the corn first. If you don’t want to grind it into corn meal, plant a variety used for popping.
  • Wait until the corn gets a good start, about knee high. Then plant the pole-type dry beans close to the corn.
  • You can plant the squash at the same time as the beans, either as seeds or as young plants.

Mulch and water as needed, and let them go.

Come fall, after a frost or two:

  • Bring the squash indoors. Store your harvest in a cool area of your house or in the garage. Be sure to keep them from freezing.
  • Place the dry beans in a paper bag, close it and shake well to separate the seeds from the pods. Clean out any debris and store in a cool dry place. If any beans are not completely dry, allow them to dry naturally before storing.
  • Remove the corn kernels from the husk, let them continue to dry or finish them in a dehydrator; store them like the beans. Use the stalks as a wonderful fall decoration, or since they do not break down easily, as a weed barrier.

Now you are practicing a gardening technique that has been around long before any of us, and getting in touch with not only nature, but history and tradition as well.

Gardening Jones is a Pennsylvania master gardener. Learn more at her blog.
Order Renee's Garden Three Sisters Collection, which includes seed of corn, beans and squash.

Prepare your garden soil for direct-sowing seeds with a Garden Sieve: small or large.

Learn more growing techniques for combining plants to their benefit with The Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Permaculture.