Monday, July 25, 2011

Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

the three sisters, in the presidential garden

beans growing around corn 
In many Native American cultures, corn, beans, and squash were always planted together and often known collectively as "the three sisters." A number of different versions of this legend exist, the relevant message to us about the garden remain the same: these three crops are strongest when planted together.

beans growing around corn
How does it work? The corn grows tall, providing a ladder for the bean vine to climb. The squash vines stay relatively low, shading the soil in which the crops are growing and holding in moisture. The shade from the squash also helps prevent weeds. In this way, the squash acts as a living mulch. (These are the same reasons we spread straw around most of our crops in both the Parsons and Presidential Gardens.) Beans (legumes) are nitrogen-fixing plants, and may increase the available nitrogen in the plot for future years.

beans growing around corn
Planting crops that benefit one another is known as "companion planting." Crops can physically support one another, such as the corn and beans above, help repel pests, and help attract beneficial insects. We've planted herbs at the ends of many of the beds in the Parsons Garden with that goal. I'm a big fan of the wikipedia page on companion planting, and the WSG use it pretty regularly to try to determine what should be planted where.

Other versions of the Three Sisters story:
-NC Museum of History
-Web Winds
-First People Legends


  1. EVERYTHING LOOKS WONDERFUL! Sonja, I am so happy to see all the posts and hear about everything that's going on. Really really nice job with the blog. Hope you're surviving the heat!

  2. Go Sonja! This is fantastic- I wish I could eat them with you! Keep growing! Love Alex