Every American knows that a stand of well-grown sweet corn is a delight to the eye, as well as to the ear when it rustles in the wind. The classic mix of squash, beans, and corn is tricky to achieve in such a manner that the squash gets sufficient light and the beans to snot smother the corn. They should be planted only when the corn is already well on its way. Once grown, the stand of corn provides one of the best vertical accents possible.
~Louisa Jones in The Art of French Vegetable Gardening
About The Three Sisters
The three sisters garden is popular because it is an easy way to begin poly-culturing your plants. It is a technique that has been adopted from a historic Iroquois garden.
The three sisters are generally corn, pole beans, and a type of squash or pumpkin. The Iroquois would grow them together, and , in my opinion, would do so with larger spacing than what is generally taught today.
The Iroquois would generally plant this garden as a ritual. They would direct their thoughts to the elements to help the plants grow.
How To Plant a Three Sisters Garden
Prior to Planting the Three Sisters
If you have grown a green cover crop, you need to turn it under about 3 weeks prior to planting. Add peat moss or compost to your beds a week or so prior to planting. The first year, you will need to keep your beds nitrogen rich, because the nitrogen created by the beans will not be readily available in the first season.
You can soak the corn 8 or less hours to help with germination.
Planting the Three Sisters
You will generally start planting in late May or early June. Around this time, you will create mounds about a foot high and 2 feet in width. The centers of the mounds should be 4 feet apart and have flattened tops.
First, Plant 5 or 6 corn kernals in a small circle in the middle of the mound.
You will need to water your plants every week, and if you used presoaked seed, the watering will need to be more frequent.
After a week or two, the corn will have grown to about 5 or 6 inches tall. Now you plant your pole beans in a circle around the corn about six inches away from the corn.
Now wait another week and plant your squash or pumpkin. Plant seven or eight seeds around the beans about a foot away, at the edges of the mound.
This is an intense planting, so we observe which plants are the strongest as they grow and weed out the corn, beans, and squash that is the weakest.
Also as they grow, you will make sure the beans are supported by the corn stalks and help them wrap around the corn. The squash will go everywhere.
Enjoy growing the three sisters and think about what they are. Corn is the supporter, holding up the beans. Beans are the one that brings them together as a family, and is also the giver (of nitrogen), and the squash is the protector (from weeds and different pests).
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