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Along the Knightsbridge Tomato Trail in Washington, DC

Along the Knightsbridge Tomato Trail in Washington, DC


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All photos by Jai Williams.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, August means two things: an abundance of heirloom tomato varieties in every size, shape, and color, and the arrival of thirty-one uninterrupted days of sensuous summer pleasure. When not eating tomatoes, hedonist foodies long for them, gazing wistfully at them in farmers markets or secretly coveting them in their neighbor’s garden. Even ambivalent eaters daydream about the chance for stolen moment of languid pleasure and the tentative first bite of the crimson tomato’s burnished flesh.

Minimalists prefer their berry nude with just a whisper of sea salt and conventional lovers serve tomatoes in fresh, colorful salads alongside pungent greens, extra virgin olive oil, and a range of red or white wine vinegars.

The Tomato’s Appeal
What is it that makes people so enraptured with the tomato? Maybe it’s the way the tomato’s firm yet yielding orb reveals a juicy core that’s bursting with flavor. Or, it could be the tomato’s duality of sweet and savory aromas that make even sweetly scented strawberries seem pale and mewling in comparison. Whatever the attraction, we can say with certainty that flavorless, mealy, piqued supermarket tomatoes are not what are on everyone’s minds. What people crave are less-than-perfect, appetizing, GMO- and pesticide-free heirloom tomatoes with deep earthy aromas and flavors—these are the qualities that have made the tomato an essential ingredient in cuisines as far flung from The States as China and India.

You Say “Vegetable,” Botanists Say “Fruit”
Cooks adore the tomato because its kaleidoscopic blend of tangy, sweet, tender, meaty qualities lends complexity and nuance to any dish. Many cooks mistakenly call the tomato a vegetable but this confusion is forgiven since the tomato has many guises and can play many parts. Its red, gold, brown, green, purple, and orange color palette gives it the versatility to be both a minor and major player in stocks, sauces, soups, sautés, and side dishes and it pairs well with other seasonal fruit and vegetables.

In spite of the layman’s view that the tomato is a vegetable, botanists have a less romantic opinion. Science tells them the tomato begins as a flower and later produces seeds, and anyone who has taken even a rudimentary botany class can tell you that’s a sure sign the tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable. Nevertheless, even scientists succumb to the tomato’s charms. Could it be this prolific, sun-loving fruit’s complex blend of sugars and compounds that offer endless hours of tasty research?

The Tomato’s Scentsability
What makes the tomato such a unique fruit is that no single volatile compound gives the fruit its special aromas and flavors. In fact, several hundred volatile compounds make up the flavor and scent profile of a ripe tomato (including the very aromatic stems and leaves), and humans can only detect about 15 to 20 of the most concentrated compounds. However, when compared to the one or two compounds that give a banana its individual flavor one sees why, over the centuries, the tomato has become such a highly prized cooking ingredient. Try smelling the tomato, stem, and leaves and see if you can identify specific aromas and flavors. It’s likely you will detect floral scents like rose petals, green aromas like freshly cut grass, spicy notes of white and black pepper, and even sweet tropical fruit.

A Connoisseur of Fine Tomatoes
While less imaginative chefs may simply use the tomato in quick sauces or sautés, there are chefs that embrace tomato season happily and are inspired to create original dishes that elevate it to new heights. And we have Ashok Bajaj to thank for five of the most singular and inventive expressions of tomato art on offer this season.

Ashok Bajaj is a discriminating restaurateur with an impeccable eye for quality. He pursues excellence in all things, and to capture the tomato’s brief moment of seasonal beauty, he wisely had chefs at five of his Knightsbridge Restaurant Group’s restaurants create tomato-centric menus that celebrate this fruit throughout August. Each chef has put his stamp on original, and brilliantly executed dishes at 701, Ardeo + Bardeo, Bibiana, NoPa Kitchen + Bar, and Oval Room. We were lucky enough to taste each dish and discover the inspiration behind each one. We hesitate to use the word genius too liberally, but in this case, it fits. Dash over there to taste each before they disappear with the waning of the season or you will miss this spectacular dining experience.

Ardeo + Bardeo
When Ardeo+Bardeo executive chef Jonathan Dearden says his tomatoes are local, he means it. The cherry tomatoes featured in his heirloom tomato salad are grown on the restaurant’s roof and he sources his cheese, fruits, and vegetables locally from fastidious purveyors. Each ingredient is bright and saturated with jewel tones of ruby, emerald, and lapis and while the salad may feature only a few select ingredients, each one is alive on your palate. Chef Dearden has captured the essence of a summer garden in his blend of pickled blueberries, mâche, plum, Burbank, sun gold, and red blush tomatoes. A delicate sun-dried tomato and balsamic vinaigrette includes extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and shallots enhances the aromas and tastes of each ingredient. This dish is proof it takes an artist to elevate a simple tomato salad to a color splash of impressionist art that tastes as beguiling and fresh as it looks. It can easily take pride of place as the overture to any meal.


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

Did you know that corn, beans, and squash are called the “Three Sisters”? A number of Native American tribes interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters. Here’s how to plant your own Three Sisters garden.

What Is a Three Sisters Garden?

The Three Sisters method is companion planting at its best, with three plants growing symbiotically to deter weeds and pests, enrich the soil, and support each other.

Instead of today’s single rows of a single vegetable, this method of interplanting introduced biodiversity, which does many things—from attracting pollinators to making the land richer instead of stripping it of nutrients. In a sense, we take no more from nature than what we give back.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans necessary support.
  • The pole beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other pests, which don’t like to step on them.

Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!


Image credit: University of Illinois Extension

Which Seeds to Plant

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:

    (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. The ‘Ohio Pole Bean’ is our favorite. We’ve also heard that some very vigorous hybrid pole beans clambering up skinny hybrid corn stalks can pull them down. So if you want to be extra cautious, look for less vigorous climbers. If you’d like to try native varieties, look for Four Corners Gold Beans or Hopi Light Yellow.
    such as sweet corn, dent corn, or popcorn, or a combination. Your favorite sweet corn variety will do, although Native Americanas used a hearier corn with shorter stalks or many-stalked varieties so that the beans didn’t pull down the corn such as pale yellow Tarhumara corn, Hopi White corn, or heritage Black Aztec,
    such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard). Note: Pumpkins are too vigorous and heavy plant in a separate bed. Native American squash was different, but a yellow summer crookneck is similar enough.

If you do wish to investigate pure strains of native seeds, reach out to experts such as Native Seeds/ SEARCH , a nonprofit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, or Native American cultural museums.

How to Plant the Three Sisters

There are variations to the Three Sisters method, but the idea is to plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.

Before planting, choose a sunny location (at least 6 hours of full sun every day). This method of planting isn’t based on rows, so think in terms of a small field. Each hill will be about 4 feet wide and 4 feet apart, with 4 to 6 corn plants per hill. Calculate your space with this in mind.

  1. In the spring, prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter and weed-free compost. Adjust the soil with fish scraps or wood ash if needed.
  2. Make a mound of soil about a foot high and 3 to 4 feet wide with a flat top that is about 10 inches across. For multiple mounds, space about four feet apart.
  3. Plant corn first once danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures reach 55°F. Don’t plant any later than June 1 in most areas, since corn requires a long growing season. See local frost dates.
  4. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep in the flat part of the mound, about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
  5. Don’t plant the beans and squash until the corn is about 6 inches to 1 foot tall. This ensures that the corn stalks will be strong enough to support the beans. The beans’ role is to fix nitrogen in the soil, which is needed for strong corn production. You can grow several pole bean varieties without worrying about hybrids, but just plant one variety per hill. (Tip: Another option is to plant corn transplants in this case, you’d plant them at the same time as the beans.)
  6. Once corn is 6 inches to 1 foot tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. (Tip: If you coat your bean seeds with an innoculant before planting, you will fix nitrogen in the soil and that will benefit all of the plants.)
  7. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound. See the spacing for squash on your packet usually this is about 18 inches apart. You may wish to put two seeds in each hole to ensure germination.

Sometimes a fourth sister is included, such as a sunflower or amaranth, which attracts pollinators and lures birds away from the seeds. Sunflowers can be planted at the cross section of the spaces between the corn hills, and harvested for seeds. Amaranth could come up among the squash, and could be harvested both for greens and for seeds.

Watch our video demonstrating how to plant a three sisters garden.

Read our article on Companion Gardening to learn more about which plants are friends—or, foes!


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