Corn, Squash, and Beans - The Three Sisters of the Garden


My vegetable garden is made up of raised beds. There are eight beds that are 4’ x 8’, three beds that are 4’ x 4’, three beds that are 2’ x 8’, two small beds that are 2’ x 4’ and one bed that is 2’ x 6’. This gives me 392 square feet to plant in.

Subtract from that 32 square feet that I planted with strawberries, and 16 square feet for the center bed where I planted a dwarf apple tree and I end up with 344 square feet of raised bed planting area for the rest of the vegetables.

Normally, I plant each bed with one type of vegetable. A bed of tomatoes, one of beans, one of peppers, another with squash.

The only bed that is mixed is the one I plant in the early spring with peas, lettuce, spinach, onions and radishes and the last bed I plant where all the “leftovers” end up.

But that is going to change.

I have decided that it might be a little bit more interesting overall to plant a variety of vegetables in each bed.

I’m starting first with the bed where I plant the corn. This year I am again planting the variety ‘Bon Appetit’, which I grew last year with good results. Then I’m going to add to this bed some spaghetti squash and some pole beans, to make it a true Three Sisters garden. I was going to do this last year, but decided not to at the last minute. That desire for order in the garden was just too strong.

But I will fight that this year and mix it up.

The Native Americans called the inter-planting of corn, beans and squash the “Three Sisters” because of how these plants help one another. The corn provides support for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the squash vines shade the ground which prevents weeds and helps retain moisture in dry years.

For pole beans, I think I’ll try ‘Blue Lake Wonder’ because that’s what Frances at Faire Garden recommends.

For the spaghetti squash, I might try ‘Hi Beta Gold’. Does anyone have any other recommendations? Who is out there trying to breed the perfect spaghetti squash, anyway?

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You can see from the picture above, taken earlier today, that this was a beautiful sunny day in central Indiana. I should have spent time outside weeding my paths, as you can see. Ugh. I didn't. I wanted to, but I am still in winter mode. I need to start switching to spring mode!

But as soon as I did that, we'd probably get a bunch of snow dumped on us. Patience is a virtue in the second half of winter!

Comments

  1. The three sisters method worked great for us last summer, and saved us a ton of space. Plus, the beans look pretty cool vining up the corn! You're smart to plant your veggies with each other. Somewhere around here I have a great link on companion planting ... hmm. A google search will get you tons of info, I'm sure. We usually do basil with our peppers, radishes with the cukes, and nasturtiums with the summer squash--all those pairs benefit each other.

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  2. Although they look wonderful when full of green and growing vegetables, the garden beds are very pleasing right now, Carol - empty geometrical shapes that are all potential .

    I like the spaghetti squash idea for the third sister - besides being delicious, it keeps longer than summer squash. This will be interesting!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  3. It amazes me when I see these photos of Spring planting when I am walking in a winter wonderland!! YES I am now walking on my own!! hugs NG

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  4. I would suggest Asparagus beans, or 'Yard long beans' too. They are wonderful!

    The beans DO grow to be a yard long, but we usually pick them when they are 12-18" long. Very tasty, and 12" long green beans look very nice on a plate if you are cooking a special dinner.

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  5. I have always planted bush beans, and I didn't think I had room for corn, but I may have to give the three sisters idea a try. I like the spegetti squash idea, too.

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  6. my only reservation with this method is that its difficult, sometimes, if you intended to pick the sweetcorn/beans to eat fresh (as opposed to leaving them on the plant to dry) as the beans entwine around the sweetcorn, and it can be quite difficult to get in the middle of them. I'm told when the native americans used this method it was to leave them on the plant to dry out. I haven't tried this for myself, i just read the blog of someone in the UK who did (I think it was http://plotblog-lilymarlene.blogspot.com/) and who struggled as i've described.

    keth
    xx

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  7. We grew some spaghetti squash last year. I am not sure of the variety, it was just something my 12 year old wanted to try. We put her in charge of one veggie every year, something she wants to try. She loved the squash, and it really does taste better out of the garden than off of the grocery shelf. Winter is still here in Utah in full force, we have tons of snow on the ground, and today we saw a MOOSE in our backyard! crazy.

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  8. Looks like the only thing I'm going to be planting is SNOW Peas...for the next while, anyway. So I'm glad you're having a little springlike weather.

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  9. Carol - it's only February 9. We've had blizzards in March and a few snowfalls in April. That's why I enjoy the warm days in winter so much. Did a little early weeding today.

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  10. You are one serious vegetable gardener. I wish I had the space, time and know how to do what you do.

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  11. Companion planting sounds like a good idea ... besides it is more interesting to look at too. I have done some research on three sister's planting - it makes a lot of sense.

    What about some sunflowers? Do you ever plant these? I bet they'd look great in your veggie boxes.

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  12. It will be interesting to see if you notice a decrease in pest attacks when you start mixing up your vegies. That's one of the reasons for doing it: it breaks up the outlines of plants,and the scents mix, confusing the bad guys, and there is more habitat for predators. I gave a brief definition of guild planting in a recent post, but not really enough to help you much. I'll just start with one thought: plant your slower-growing crops toward the middle of each bed. Have fun!

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  13. I did "two sisters" last year! Planted bush beans between the corn rows. It worked well, and when the corn was done, we tore the stalks out and the beans kept right on producing. We don't like squash, so we don't grow that, but I'd probably do the corn and beans things again!
    I've mixed some veggies in with the flower garden a bit, but I want to do that even more this year.
    Love your raised beds. We're going to put in a couple this spring.

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  14. I have loved reading your blog. I am a "wanna-be gardener." My mom and Grandma used to have a HUGE garden. I just haven't seemed to find that gardening gene yet.

    For several years, I have thought about trying a raised garden. Just one small one to start with. Could you give any advice or websites on how to start one? I need simple. :)

    Your blog is so inspiring! Thank you!

    Jodi in Indiana

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  15. Hey my veggie-enamoured friend...you've won a blogging award. Pop by Bloomingwriter and pick it up, and congratulations!

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  16. The Three Sisters works great! Make sure you pick a tall and sturdy corn for your beans to climb on.

    I would suggest you try the bean variety "Fortex" rather than the "Blue Wonder"]." I have grown both and the flavor of the Fortex bean is astonishingly good. It grows long slender sweet pods, and retains its amazing flavor even after the beans get larger. And there are NO strings, ever, even when it gets old and tough and suitable for shelling out for soup. Just my opinion.

    I would like to mention that if you are trying to do any sort of rotational gardening to minimize disease and pests, mixing up your other vegetables is going to make that process quite difficult.

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  17. However, that being said, companion planting is wonderfully effective. I plant thai purple basil in amidst my squashes and it seems to keep the squash borers away very effectively. Marigolds make wonderful companion plants also, and are beautiful besides.

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  18. We are ready to do veggies here in TN, sugar snap peas, onion sets, the seed started one will go in soon, and radishes have gone in outside already, but teen temps are forecast for tonight! Yikes! Thanks for the mention, we still have several packs of the green beans in the freezer from last season, so good. Glad to hear about the basil helping with the squash bugs, we had a serious problem last year.

    Frances at Faire Garden

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  19. I considered doing the same thing this year to save on space.

    How far apart(days)do the corn and pole beans need to be in order for this to work Carol?

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  20. you have a beautiful vegetable garden! i am so envious!

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  21. I've always loved this idea, but have never done it. Two questions: one, can you grow yellow beans instead of green and two, can you grow zucchini rather than winter squash?? Thanks, Carol.

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  22. Fabulous blog and photos! I am intrigued by the whole companion planting idea-tried a bit of a 3 sisters planting last year but am also mindful of the swamping of the corn by the beans. I look forward to seeing how you get on.

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  23. Nan, I'm obviously not Carol, but I saw your comment and thought I'd jump in. I think winter squash might be the better choice, unless your rows of corn are relatively far apart. Last year we tried zucchini and yellow squash and while everything grew and produced just fine, the upright stems and leaves of the squash plants started pushing out the corn towards the middle of the season. We always had to fiddle with it and move the squash leaves around. Winter squash that lays lower to the ground and vines more is easier to manage (as there's really no management involved at all). And I think any kind of beans would be fine. They all fix nitrogen into the soil, which is what the corn really likes. Plus everything looks cool growing together!

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  24. All

    Thank you for the wonderful comments and suggestions. I think I'll have to plant the corn first, and let it grow a bit, then add the beans. I'll probably plant the squash at the same time as the corn.

    Watch for posts this summer to see how it all progresses!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

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  25. Thanks, Meg! I think maybe I'll just try the beans and corn. Not a winter squash fan. :<)

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  26. For you folks who do not want squash, try some pumkins. You get the benefit of the shade of the large leaves and also have Jack O Lanterns in the fall. And pumpkin soup is good too. :: and if you are REAL lucky ... the great pumpkin will visit your patch in October. ::

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  27. For you folks who do not want squash, try some pumkins. You get the benefit of the shade of the large leaves and also have Jack O Lanterns in the fall. And pumpkin soup is good too. :: and if you are REAL lucky ... the great pumpkin will visit your patch in October. ::

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