Three Sisters

Graphic of Corn, beans, and squash

 

Have you ever heard of the Three Sisters?

The Three Sisters, corn, pole beans, and squash were the main part of the Native American diet. They also have a traditional way to plant these crops to create a harmonious garden. It is one of the best historical examples of companion planting. The corn provides support for the climbing beans. The beans nourish the soil with nitrogen and help strengthen the corn during heavy winds. The squash provides shade which helps the soil retain moisture and it acts as mulch, keeping the weeds away.

Many Native American tribes have their own legends surrounding these agricultural staples. If you would like to know more about these legends, you can check out one shared by the Oneida Nation or you can read two shared by Sheila Wilson in the Fall 2005 issue of Tar Heel Junior Historian.

 

How to plant the Three Sisters 

Spring, after the last frost, is the best time to plant this garden style. You can check the UF/IFAS page to know when to plant in North Florida. There are several different traditional methods of planting the Three Sisters. We will focus on the mound method.

  1. Create a mound of soil 4”-1’ high and 3 to 4 feet across with a flat top. Multiple mounds should be spaced 4 feet apart.
  2. The corn should be planted first to give it time to grow so it’s strong enough to support the beans. For this type of garden in Florida, it is best put to the corn in the ground in February or March. Plant 4 corn seeds about 6” apart in the center of the mound (as shown below.) It is important to note that you will have to pollinate the corn by hand with this planting style.
  3. When the corn is at least 6” tall, plant 4 beans at least 3” from the corn. You will have to train the tendrils to climb the corn.
  4. After the beans emerge, plant 2 squash seeds 24” from the center of the mound directly across from each other. Encourage the Squash to trail around the outer edges of the mound. Refer to the not-to-scale diagram below.

visual displaying planting method described

For other methods and for more information on this garden style, please head over to Native Seeds, Cornell University, or the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

 

Best Corn, Beans, and Squash to plant in Florida

According to IFAS, these are the best plants that stand up to Florida heat and soil conditions:

Corn – Silver Queen, How Sweet It Is, Sweet Ice, Sweet Riser, and Early Sunglow

Pole Beans – McCaslan, Kentucky Wonder, Rattlesnake and Blue Lake

Squash, Summer – Summer Crookneck (Yellow Crookneck Squash), ‘Cocozelle’ (very long, dark green zucchini with light green stripes), ‘Spineless Beauty’ (medium green zucchini on plants with very few spines), and ‘Black Beauty’ (glossy dark green zucchini). (If you go outside of these types, choose a vining squash over a bush squash)

Squash, Winter – Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests Hubbard Squash. If you’re feeling experimental, you might try Butternut or Spaghetti. Don’t use Pumpkins, however, as they usually are too heavy for this planting style.

You can also check out our collection for more information on growing vegetables.

Don't forget to check our recipe pages in preparation of your harvest! So far we have corngreen beans, zucchini, and butternut squash

Seed kits

If you’d like to give this a try, stop by the Tower Road Branch and ask for a “Three Sisters Seed Kit.” The **kit will include everything you need for one mound, and will be available until March 31, 2021. You can ask for up to 2 kits. If you prefer using one of our other locations, just ask for a kit to be sent there. We would love to see anything you grow from our seeds so share photos or videos of your Three Sisters or other plants with us on social media. Don’t forget to tag us @alachualibrary on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

 

**As with all Seed Library seeds, these are donated by area businesses and Alachua County residents. These seeds are usually from expired packs and may not produce plants.