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Three Sisters

Hi. New to the forum so hello to you all. I am going to try the Three Sisters planting technique as used by Native Americans, i.e. planting sweet corn, beans and squash together. Has anyone tried this and with what success? A minimum block of 10ft by 10ft is recommended  generally, but does this lead to problems harvesting? This does concern me and will probably go for a more linear planting. I am also going to plant each veg separatley in their own beds so I can compare yields. There is I believe a fourth sister which is sometimes used, the good old sunflower, which I quite like the thought of as it helps attract pollinating insects  and gives extra support to the beans. But I understand the sunflower releases growth inhibitors into the soil. Has any tried all four together? Thanks.


  • Zoomer44Zoomer44 Posts: 3,267

    I've heard of the Three Sisters planting technique, not tried it, but was going to try planting either mini pop with squash/small pumkins or mini pop and french beans. Mini pop grows as tall as sweetcorn.

    I suspect native Americans probably planted  sweetcorn further apart than what we would plant, allowing sun to get to the squash/pumkins which would grow on the ground and allowing for room to walk between the corn to pick the beans. 

    Planting in a long narrow bed would mean not needing to walk on the growing area, so a linear bed would make sense as you could reach each plant variety as it cropped. Sounds like you have a good plan.

    Not heard of the fourth sister, but planting four plants in a relatively close planting area, me thinks would mean them all competing for the same nurients from soil in a confined space. Sunflowers and sweetcorn have deeper root systems than beans and squash, these grow nearer the surface than sweetcorn and sunflowers which are taller plants and need a stronger anchorage to prevent them being damaged in windy weather. I'd be inclined to plant sunflowers in a differnt area but close by.      

     I'm sure someone else will be along whose tried the three sisters.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 82,800

    Sweetcorn needs to be planted in blocks not rows, to ensure pollination by the wind.

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • Zoomer44Zoomer44 Posts: 3,267

    Sweetcorn can be planted in a rectangle, a block of 3 by 3 which is 9 plants, is sufficient for polination, so providing there is at least three rows, then pollination shouldn't be a problem in a linear bed. 

  • potlingspotlings Posts: 5

    Thanks for the reolies. Dovefromabove,I was thinking  a wide row with maybe the corn 4 or 5 deep. Zoomer, I was also thinking maybe climbing french beans as I am sure runners must be too vigorous for the corn. Have done a bit more research and it seems the Native Americans grew their corn to dry and make flour so in blocks harvesting would not be a problem for them. There seem to be plenty of mentions of people trying this method on the internet in forums and blogs but very few follow ups of how it turned out. 

    I have bought some Mini Pop this year for the first time (for the grandkids!) I, for some unknown reason, had assumed they were smaller plants than regular sweetcorn! Must learn to read the packet!


  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 21,049

    I have grown butternut squash under sweetcorn twice, but I was disappointed with the squash each time. Perhaps the corn made too much shade, perhaps I planted the corn too close together. I don't think beans would be a good idea. Climbing ones would shade the corn and corn likes sun.

    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Zoomer44Zoomer44 Posts: 3,267

    I thought mni pop would produce smaller plants and living in the NW, grew it on the basis it cropped in a shorter time to big sweetcorn, it went romping away and reached over 6ft last yearimage.

  • barry islandbarry island Posts: 1,617

    I believe that when the natives planted the three sisters method they grew maize, beans and winter squash, they would let them grow until they were completely ripe and the beans and maize were dried out with the intention of storing them to feed them through the winter months. I hear that trying to do this with sweetcorn and climbing beans becomes difficult to cultivate if you intend to harvest either of them when they are at their best.

  • I tried a sort of two-sisters thing last year, although there was quite an age gap between the sisters. I grew climbing French beans on a double wigwam, and then planted several  squash seedlings on the ground beneath. The squash were mainly on the sunny side of the beans, so there was no shading problem. Eventually the squashes began to climb the bean canes, but by this stage the beans were harvested, except for those I was growing on for seed. It worked well for me and I intend to do it again.

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