Three sisters planting for allotments

A friend of mine is trying out this system of planting, made famous by several Native American tribes and thinks I should too. The basic principle underlying the process is simple and elegant – if it works. What you do is plant the three sisters: sweetcorn, squash and beans all in the same hole. The theory is that the corn makes a support for the (runner) beans, the squash (courgette or cucumber) helps to suppress weeds by providing a ground cover something like a living mulch and the beans are a nitrogen fixer, improving the soil for both the other crops. The beans should finish first, and when the corn is ready to harvest the squashes can be allowed to run rampant, as they do.

Hmmm … I can see how it might work somewhere closer to the equator, but here? I think that the wetter, cooler climate of the UK will cause the following:

1. The beans will get very leafy and shade the squashes
2. The corn will mature more slowly than the beans, meaning that the cobs also get shaded by the bean leaves and thus won’t ripen
3. The squashes will be slow to ripen but will otherwise do fine (they are pretty indestructible)

It seems to me that this might not be a system that translates very well to the British allotment, not least because one usually has enough space to grow whatever one wants, and although I can find quite a number of people online who’ve said they are going to grow the Three Sisters way, I can’t find any reports on the results and that makes me wonder how well it works.

Has anybody out there tried it? Want to share the outcomes?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, May 30, 2008


Anonymous Simon Kirby said...

I'd not heard of it before. Like you say, it doesn't sound like it will work but trying it's the only way to prove it.


May 30, 2008 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger Magic Cochin said...

Hi, I've just read your comment on Cottage Smallholder. We grow The Three Sisters, but have adapted the method to suit our garden and combo'd it with Bob Flowerdew's method of growing squash on a mound of compost. I don't plant all three seeds in the same hole - I'm interested to see how you get on. I've just posted Part 2 of growing 'The Three Sisters'.


May 31, 2008 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Simon, you're right but it looks as if the adapted method described on Purple Podded Peas actually answers most of my concerns - it's too late for us to grow Three Sisters this year, but I think I'm going to have a stab at this next year, it sounds like a highly environmentally sensitive way to use part of the allotment, especially if we save seed from year to year.

And thanks, Magic Cochin, you've given me lots to think about!

June 2, 2008 at 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three sisters are not supposed to be planted in the same hole, they're to be planted on a mound usually about three feet in diameter- about 12 inches high at least. The corn goes in the middle, four kernels north, south, east and west, beans planted after corn is about six inches high and planted in a circle around the corn at least 6 inches away. The squash / pumpkin is planted in the outer circle, about 1 for every six bean plants - as the corn grows increase the mound around the plants to ensure support for the beans. The Indians used to plant fish with the corn so a suitable fertiliser is appropriate or you can while building the mound around the corn add well rotted manure.

April 1, 2009 at 1:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tried this. it is good for people with small veg gardens. I did not plant in the same hole. but very close. eg. sweet corn then 2in away bean leaning towards the sweetcorn, and i plant my sweetcorn in blocks and in the middle i plant a squash. I have never mounded the earth up. This saved me a lot of weeding.

January 10, 2011 at 4:41 AM  

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