Growing beans, corn, and squash together go back to the days when America was inhabited solely by Native Americans. According to legend, these three vegetables are sisters who are inseparable. They only grow and thrive when they are together. This custom of planting all three of these in the same spot is actually a sustainable system that is quite sophisticated and one that can provide both a healthy diet and fertility to the soil that is long term.
Beans, corn, and squash were some of the most important crops that were domesticated by these ancient Mesoamerican people. Although corn was the main crop, according to legend, it must grow with crops other than itself because it needed the beneficial aid and company of its companions.
More on beans, corn and squash
How it Works
Corn is actually the provider of a natural pole that the beans are using to climb. Beans have nitrogen in their roots which works to improve the plot’s fertility because it then provides the next year’s corn crop with the nitrogen. The vines of the beans also work to stabilize the stalks of corn by making them less vulnerable to being blown over in strong winds.
As far as the squash goes – this is a shallow-rooted vegetable. It works to become a sort of living mulch that shades the weeds that try to emerge. It also keeps the moisture in the soil from evaporating. By doing this, it improves the chances of the survival of the entire crop even in those inevitable dry years. Additionally, the squash plants can be quite spiny and this keeps predators from getting to the beans and corn.
There will be a large amount of residue from this type of crop combination and this residue can be incorporated into the soil when the season ends. This builds up the organic matter in the soil and improves its structure.
The three sisters are also quite complementary to each other when it comes to nutritional value. Corn is rich in carbohydrates while the beans provide protein. This protein balances out the corn’s lack of amino acids. Then there is the squash. Squash provides a couple of things. The seeds themselves contain a delicious and very healthy oil while the fruit is full of vitamins.
If you are to be successful with your 3 Sisters garden then you will need to pay close attention to a few things. Timing is critical as is the spacing of the seeds and the varieties of the veggies that you plant. Don’t plant all three of them in the same hole simultaneously or you will get a mess of vines that will overwhelm the corn. Try planting the corn and beans together and then the squash an inch or two away and then repeat the process through the garden.
When you do this successfully, you will get great vegetables while revitalizing the soil and carrying on a tradition that is hundreds of years old.