Original Companion Planting at its Best
The Three Sisters – Squash, Corn and Pole Beans were once the three main agricultural crops of several North American Natives. In traditional methods, the three crops are planted close together, in flat-topped mounds of soil, to allow their unique beneficial properties to take place. The corn stalks serve as a pole for the beans, the beans help to add the nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs, and the squash provides a ground cover of shade that helps the soil retain moisture. Companion-planting at its best!
This year I’m gardening, (in my less than ideal yard), pushing the boundaries as far as I can. Growing corn in a container is usually not recommended because you need a stand of mature stalks at least 3 ft by 3 ft to get them to pollinate. My three sisters in a pot will most likely not produce heads of corn and will only be ornamental. The pole beans and zucchini on the other hand, will definitely produce.
Growing Three Sisters –
You can put this project together in just a few hours using plants from the nursery or if you start your sisters from seed it will take 3-4 weeks. The best time to plant is in May or early June.
You will need:
- Corn seeds or corn plants. I have chosen six Yellow Sweet Corn plants from my local nursery. These should get six feet tall when mature.
- Pole Bean seeds or plants. I’m using the old standby – Kentucky Wonder.
- Squash seeds or plants suitable for container planting. I’ve chosen Eight Ball Zucchini, a compact plant with softball size fruit perfect for stuffing or slicing. Some of the small pumpkin varieties would work too.
- A container at lease 24 inches across and 12 inches deep. If you can’t find a nursery pot big enough, consider a laundry basket.
1. Fill your container with loose soil, preferably one rich in organic matter. This will be heavy once it is planted and watered, so do your planting where you plan to keep the container. Keep the weight in mind if you are growing on a second floor deck or balcony. I placed several inches of shredded paper in the bottom of my container to take up space and make sure it was not too heavy once fully planted.
2. In the center of the container plant 6 corn kernels in a small circle – or place your nursery plants. If you are growing from seed, wait a few weeks until the plants get to be about 12 inches tall…
3. Then plant twelve pole bean seeds around the outside of the container. I soaked mine for a few hours to give them an added boost. Water it all in with manure tea and you’re set.
4. A week later, place a squash start to one side of the container. I planted my seeds on a window sill earlier this week because I couldn’t find the variety I wanted at the nursery.
As the corn grows, make sure the beans are supported and wrapping around them. The squash will shade the roots and trail over the side of your container.
In case you want to plant a BIG Three Sisters garden in your yard this year, here are the instructions from NativeTech.org