Companion planting can work wonders.
Some plants are just meant to be grown together to get the best out of each other.
This magic of gardening was known even to the Native Americans. They came up with a combination of three plants that provide the right balance.
The balance of plants supporting each other and providing nutrients that include everything human beings need.
What is the three sisters garden?
The three sisters garden is a method of companion planting where you grow corn, pole beans, and squash together.
The reason is that these three plants thrive together. This method of gardening has been used extensively amount Native American farming societies.
The squash vines and corn plants share sunlight. The squash vines also provide shade to the soil for the corn plants.
It may seem that growing three plants will limit access to them. But this is not an issue because the crops are harvested as they mature. You just need to ensure the growing timing is right.
How does a three sisters garden work?
The idea of a three sisters garden is to provide a balanced diet. The corn provides carbohydrates. The beans provide proteins. And the squash provides vitamins from fruit and beneficial oil from the seeds.
The three sisters garden provides long-term soil fertility.
The corn plant offers support to the pole beans. The pole beans pull nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form suitable for all three plants.
The pole beans grow through the squash vines and wrap around the corn to keep it secure.
The squash vines cover the ground and act as a layer of mulch. This keeps the soil cool, moist and prevents weeds from growing.
The spiny squash vines also discourage predators from eating the corn and beans.
The three types of plants will decay at the end of the growing season. This residue is added back to the soil as organic matter. And enriches the soil for the next growing season.
How can you plant a three sisters garden?
Before planting the garden, make sure to conduct a soil test. You can do this with the help of your local extension service.
This will let you know the condition of the soil and any amendments required. You can add the required fertilizer or materials to fix the soil. You can add compost, peat moss to enrich the soil with nutrients.
It’s best to sow the seeds after spring when the night temperatures are 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Make sure the ground has warmed up and is not cold or wet.
This method of gardening creates a stacked garden that uses three layers. You can choose a spot in the yard that gets plenty of sunlight. You need at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun for the three sisters garden.
Make sure the soil is rich with a lot of organic nutrients. You can do this with the addition of compost. Corn is a plant that needs a lot of nutrients in the soil.
The corn plant acts as an upright crop and needs plenty of space to grow. You can soak the corn seeds for a few hours before planting.
It’s best to plant the corn in several rows rather than one as this ensures good pollination. The corn plant needs to grow two to three weeks before you plant the other plants.
Dent, flint, or flour corn is a good selection to use. Popcorn is not suitable as it does not grow tall enough for such a garden setup.
You can plant pole beans when the corn has grown to about 4 inches tall. You should plant the pole beans about three inches away from the corn.
This makes the beans grow slower at the start. But once the corn declines, the beans will grow faster.
It’s best to choose pole beans rather than other varieties like bush beans as they work the best. You can choose native or heirloom varieties of the plants.
Once the beans have sprouted, it’s time to plant the squash. The squash is to be planted at the outer edges of the garden. This helps provide a thick ground cover that acts as a mulch. That’s why it’s good to choose varieties that grow with vines rather than as a bush.
You can also plant a fourth plant on the Northside of the garden. This could be sunflower or plants that attract pollinators like bee balm or tobacco.
How can you maintain the three sisters garden?
Once young plants start growing, it’s time to remove weeds from the garden. Once the corn plants are about 4 to 6 inches, it’s time to plant pole beans and squash.
You need to water the plants with about 1 inch of water per week. If there’s not enough rainfall, you need to water the plants.
The first year of growing the three sisters garden, your soil might not have enough nitrogen available. That’s because the bean plant roots take time to release nitrogen into the soil.
You may need to add nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the soil. This could be done by adding manure, compost, or organic fertilizer.
How can you harvest and store the crops?
When the corn husks are dry, it’s time to harvest the ears and store them in a cool, dry place. Otherwise, they can get a mold problem.
If you want to save seed, you need to store from the center of the ear. After removing the kernels, store them in a covered container in a cool, dry place.
You can harvest the beans when they’re green or the pods have dried. And you can harvest the squash when their color changes.
Now you know how the three sisters garden can help you grow plants that balance each other.
The first step you can take to grow such a garden is to determine the condition of your soil with a soil test. Then make the necessary amendments.
Make sure the soil has plenty of nitrogen. If not you’ll need to amend it with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. This will help you grow corn that requires a lot of nutrients from the soil.
So take that first step and you’ll be well on your way to enjoy the magic of the three sisters garden.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.