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Three Sisters Garden

Melissa Dunlap is a writer, editor and blogger specializing in lifestyle communications. Fueled by curiosity, and a tad too much coffee, Melissa enjoys dissecting current trends for the modern woman. When she's not having dance parties w...

Long before the first Thanksgiving, Native Americans were growing crops with a very sophisticated companion planting method. One of their methods, known as a "three sisters" garden is a practice you can still use today.


Long before the first Thanksgiving, Native Americans were growing crops with a very sophisticated companion planting method. One of their methods, known as a "three sisters" garden is a practice you can still use today.

The three sisters, as they are called, are corn, beans and squash. The Iroquois, of what is now New York state, believed that corn, beans and squash were precious gifts from the Great Spirit, and each crop was  watched over by one of three sisters spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or "Our Sustainers". Festivals and annual traditions preserved the Three Sisters legacy through generations.

This planting method works so well because each of the sisters provide a resource for the others. Corn stalks act as a natural pole for beans to climb. Squash vines spread over the area and act as a cooling mulch for the soil. Tall corn and beans provide shade for the squash, preserving its soil cooling properties. Beans fix nitrogen into the soil, keeping it fertile for future gardens.

To plant your own Three Sisters garden, start with a 10-foot by 10-foot square. You will plant in mounds that alternate squash and corn/beans. Pull the soil into mounds spaced five feet apart. Plant corn first, using four seeds in every other mound. When the corn is four inches tall, plant four bean seeds in each corn plant mound. Plant squash seeds in the unplanted mounds between the corn/bean mounds.
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