Garden

2009 “Get It Garden” Challenge – How to Plant A Native American Three Sisters Garden


Welcome to the 2009 Casual Gardener “Get It Garden” Challenge!! The challenge: create a garden that makes a difference in your life and your community, then share it with The Casual Gardener readers.

Native American Indians were able to domesticate several important crops including corn, beans, and squash. There is an Iroquois legend which states that these plants are three loving sisters who only grow and thrive together. This is actually a marvelously sustainable planting combination which helps provide long-term soil fertility and a handsome food crop simultaneously.

Planting a Three Sisters Garden has been a gardening dream of mine for some time as I love the idea of being able to grow a lot of food in a small amount of space while being connected to a little bit of our American history. This year I found a full sun spot in my shared easement public garden area to finally live my dream.


Each sister works in a unique way to help support the other. Corn is a perfect pole for the bean vines to climb. Beans add nitrogen to the soil from their roots. Squash plants then become a living mulch keeping weeds away and providing a way to hold soil moisture.

My primary concern in planting the three sisters is ensuring the the plants do not become a giant mess of vines which overwhelm the corn and that there is enough corn for adequate pollination. To do this you will need a 10 X 10 space and plant at least eight stalks of corn.Three Sisters Mound with compost added

Plant your garden in an area which receives at least six to eight  hours of direct sunlight daily. Since corn is a heavy feeder, amend the soil with compost or aged manure (I used rotted buffalo manure as a historical tribute) the first year. Nitrogen from your beans will not be available to the corn until next year. Some people plant the corn in rows, while some observe a more traditional approach of planting in one large mound with the corn encircling the squash area. I chose to do it the large mound way.

Daughter pointing to bean seed for Three Sisters Mound         In a perfect world, it would be best to plant the corn first, followed three weeks later by the beans and squash. I did not have that timing luxury due to my travel schedule this year, so have planted them all together and will protect the corn seedings from being overwhelmed by the beans and squash with a protective covering until the corn is strong enough to hold the bean vines.

In the video above you can see the process I followed. My daughter and mother-in-law pitched in to help. Hopefully we will be rewarded by lots of delicious veggies at the end of the season.

Try growing a garden utilizing a traditional technique like the Three Sisters Garden uses. Let me know what techniques you are using this season – write in and tell me all about it.

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Ryan
    May 16, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    It is a great system indeed!

    I planted corn with courgettes a while back and it worked a treat. The addition of beans would be great and I can see how that, in time, would benefit the area tremendously.

    I will keep this one in the memory bank for future projects!

    Ryan

  • Reply
    Eileen Landau
    May 16, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Shawna,

    If you’re planting on a sunny day, always wait till late afternoon or early evening. Water well. That way the plant gets to rest overnight. If it’s a grey day, it’s ok to plant at any time.

    Actually, if it’s a light drizzle, planting then is the best. Your plants get watered without you!

  • Reply
    Shawna
    May 16, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    I’m so excited about this garden I’ve been going out to check it every few hours. How silly is that?!?! 🙂

    Had a beautiful sunny day today, although it was only in the high 50’s a lot of the day. Very windy. Let’s hope for another glorious day tomorrow.

    Thanks for all the tips!

    Shawna

  • Reply
    Bren
    May 17, 2009 at 12:32 am

    I love your blog…. you are super adorable! I had no idea what a 3 sister garden is. I guess I will have to plant one now and MAYBE VLOG it!

    ((HUGS)) and thank you for sharing your wonderful garden with us all. I learn so much from you – SISTER in the garden!

  • Reply
    Joe Lamp'l
    May 17, 2009 at 2:09 am

    Always look forward to your next video. I remember the three sisters garden from an episode we did on Fresh from the Garden. Very efficient use of space!
    I love the ending on your video. Very clever! Did you have glass over your camera I hope???

  • Reply
    Shawna
    May 17, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Joe – you are gonna love this – I did NOT cover my camera with glass or anything else. It’s my wonderful little Olympus Stylus TOUGH which is waterproof and shockproof. Cool, right? I have so many fun ideas for videotaping this summer!

  • Reply
    ted@thedailyreviewer.com
    May 18, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Hi!, I have compiled a list of the top gardening blogs, and yours was included! check it out at http://thedailyreviewer.com/top/gardening

  • Reply
    Susan
    May 18, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Aww… look at the happy little pumpkins! I’m glad they’re growing for a good cause! I’m going to harden mine and get them in this week. ; )

  • Reply
    Shawna
    May 18, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    You gave me those pumpkins Susan – WOOT! And my youngest said, “awww… look at the babies,” after we had planted them.

    She’s definitely going to be a gardener. She gives strangers advice when they come to tour my garden – how funny is that, right?

    🙂

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