The Q&A Archives: Three Sisters

Question: I am interested in the Three Sisters design for growing corn, beans, and squash together. How should this be planted? Is this suitable for a small backyard garden?

Answer: Beans, corn, and squash are the traditional Native American "three sisters" garden. One planting method is to form mounds of soil about a foot high and 3 feet in diameter, spaced about 3 feet apart from each other. Once the soil has warmed, plant the corn first. Wait two to three weeks before planting the beans and squash, to give the corn a head start. The corn should be at least 3 or 4 inches tall when you plant the others. Traditionally, climbing pole beans were planted -- they climb using the corn stalks for support. In turn, the beans fix nitrogen from the air and provide it to the corn. The squashes large leaves shade the ground to retain moisture and help keep the weeds down.

Planting these three crops together can certainly save garden space, and as long as you provide full sunshine and adequate water, your Three Sisters garden should thrive, even in a small backyard.

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