Planting the 3 Sisters

I am trying to follow some of the permaculture principles when planting our vegetable garden. I would love at some stage to go on a permaculture course but they usually cost a lot and are for longer periods of time that I can be away. I know that there is a lot to learn so I have reading and trying to discover as much as I can for myself.

Permaculture promotes planting in group of companion plants that each help the other to grow better so the group grows better than the individual things on their own. One of the popular groups that I came across was called the 3 sister. It has a Native American origin as these 3 form part of the staple Native American diet.

Excuse my simple drawing

The story goes:
Corn, the oldest sister, was said to grow strong and proud. Squash, the youngest sister, crouched at the feet of the other two, keeping them protected from predators. Beans, the middle sister leaned on her older sister for support and twined the three together.

I am one of 3 girls, so Rachel asked if my older sister was the tallest so I said no I was, so she said then I have to be the corn, Jenni can be the beans and my younger sister Sarah is the squash.

How it works

The corn grows tall and provides a frame for the beans to climb up and grow on which the squash on the bottom acts as a sort of living mulch. Providing shade and preventing water loss. Beans also act as a nitrogen fixer and squash and corn are both heavy on the soil.

Technique


-You make flat top mounds of soil that are about 30cm high ( I am not sure mine got quite so high) and about 48-50cm in diameter. I used worm compost, some shop bought compost as I did not have enough and some of our soil.

– I put a glass water bottle upside down in the center to act as a direct waterer

– We had previously started growing corn in seedling trays and so I planted the small plants out around the bottle using the North, South, East, West Pattern. These may need to be thinned out later to about 2 or 3 of the strongest corn plants
– In the link I read on line about this method they said to plant the corn direct and then wait until it was about 2 weeks old then add the beans around. Since I had the corn plants already I just planted the bean seeds around now. I planted about 5-6 bean seeds per mound.

– The squash gets planted in the side of the mound and you really only need 1 but I planted 2 in each and will thin out as I see how they grow. I had some of these already in seedling trays too. I used gem squash which would probably not been the squash used by the Native Americans but they grow well here.

– I mulched my mounts for now with straw as it is very very hot at the moment and I did not want the small plants to burn and I added small logs or bricks around the mounts to help contain the water.

One thought on “Planting the 3 Sisters

  1. How’s that going? I tried that and found that the squash grew too quickly and shaded the ground too much for the beans to grow. The corn grew quite quickly too. I think next time I will plant corn and bean seedlings together so that they grow at the same rate. Also, stake the corn so that when you’ve harvested the ears the stalk won’t fall over. It’s supposed to provide a support for the beans but the beans keep producing long after the corn is finished. I would use a 2 (or 3)m flexible bamboo pole for each corn and then tie them together at the top as the beans will get quite long (my green bean grow up the drainpipe and over the roof, easily 3m!). Also, you need to add quite a lot of manure for the corn and the squash, they’re heavy feeders and the beans don’t quite put out enough nutrients into the soil.

    Good luck!

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