Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Three Sisters

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm on the Garden Committee at my son's elementary school and this week we worked with the 4th grade classes planting the "Three Sisters" - corn, beans and squash.

The Native Americans have passed down the legend of the Three Sisters, as well as the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the crops through generations.

The legend describes three maidens (corn, beans and squash) who, despite being very different, love each other and thrive when they are near each other. For this reason, the Native Americans planted these three crops together.

The corn provides a natural pole for the bean vines to climb. The beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the soil. The squash leaves provide shade for the soil, deterring weeds and preventing loss of soil moisture.

Image from Park Seed Co
Nutritionally, this combination also complement each other. The corn provides carbohydrates, the beans provide protein, and the squash provides vitamins and healthy oils.

Before the children began the project we read the legend to them so they would understand its history as well as the idea of companion planting. For our project, we also added a fish head to the soil as fertilizer. Personally, I think the children enjoyed handling the fish head the best, but the whole project seemed to be a hit!

First they dug a deep hole, into which they placed the fish head. After covering the head with soil, they continued to build a mound of soil about 12-15 inches high. At the top of the mound, they planted a few corn seeds. Then they built a tee-pee from three stakes and placed it over the mound. This will help the beans climb to the corn. Bean seeds were planted around the middle ring of the mound. Finally, at the base of the mound, they planted various types of squash seeds.

There are four classes and each class planted two mounds of the Three Sisters. I can't wait to see how they progress over the next few weeks!

If you would like to read a version of the Three Sisters legend, head on over to the The Bird Clan of Alabama's site. 


  1. A very interesting planting technique. I think the fish head is the key to having a good outcome of produce.

  2. That's really interesting.

  3. I just found your blog and am about to embark on planting an entirely new (edibles) garden. It looks like your have amazing archives! (I found you via a belgian fence google... yeah, new garden and I'm already planning advanced espalier...)
    Any thoughts on this particular combination in the San Francisco bay area? It's the corn in paricular I have no idea about.

  4. kaya_sf - that is very exciting for you! I am not an expert in growing things in SF, but the one thing I do know is that gardening is an adventure and you'll never know what works until you try it. Good luck!


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