Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Three Sisters

Last November I gleaned some corn from the field at Prophet's Town near the Tippecanoe Battlefield. It is an ancient variety known as Miami White. This corn was widely known for it's easy grinding quality. This spring I planted a traditional "Three Sisters Garden" using Miami White corn, Kentucky Wonder pole beans and Sweet Pie pumpkins.The little troll is my watchdog.
From what I understand the Iroquois are credited with devising this method of planting and from them it spread to most of the Eastern Woodland Native people of North America. There is a very cool Mohawk legend about the three sisters which I included in my latest book "Pickawillany."

According to the instructions I found you make small hills about twelve inches in diameter, the centers of which are about twenty four inches apart. In the center of each mound you plant four or five corn kernels about six inches deep. Let those germinate and grow for about ten days and then plant the beans and squash in a ring around the sprouting corn about six inches out from the center. I made nine holes an inch deep in a circle around each corn plant and dropped two beans in every other hole then put one pumpkin seed in each of the remaining holes.

When the beans come up they will climb the corn stalks to produce beans. In return the bean plants put nitrogen in the soil which the corn needs to grow well. When the squash comes up its broad leaves will help keep the ground shady and moist and its spiny vines will help deter animals that might try to eat the beans and corn.

The three sisters help each other while they grow and when harvested they provide a well balanced diet of protein, starch, and vitamins for the gardener. The three sisters have a very symbiotic relationship on many levels and were the staples of most Eastern Woodland Native American villages right up into the nineteenth century.
 Two weeks after planting beans and squash.
Pumpkins are blooming.
Eight weeks after planting corn.
By August the corn reached six feet tall. Beans and pumpkins in bloom. Sixteen ears in silk and some beans formed by the 12th. Only disappointment has been the pumpkins. Despite a  load of blooms ... no fruit. Hard to know if I did something wrong or just didn't have enough bees to get the job done.


  1. I wish I had a place to try this. My potato patch up on the hill is limited in access to water. Maybe when I can be up at the cabin more in the summer I can give it a try.

    By the way, a film crew for the Travel Channel came up to the cabin last week. We will probably be on the next episode of Extreme Houseboats in the fall. It was quite an experience. - Margy

  2. Congrats! You'll have to let us know when you're scheduled to air.

  3. Hi, I read this post back in May and I'm wondering how the plants went, did you get any veggies. Was this style of planting worth it.

  4. Yes and yes. I have gotten some veggies from it and it was worth trying. Thanks for asking! I posted a newer photo above.

  5. Thanks for the updates to this post.
    I like how your garden worked out in the end, even if the pumpkin failed I still like what you did. Thanks for the tutorial.
    I grew pumpkin once and I never got male flowers at the same time as female flowers, I pulled open the male flower and used a cotton tip and rubbed it in the flower and then into the female flower and I got a lot of pumpkins.
    I'm going to try this type of garden next summer.