Three Sisters Garden

Native American Indians and the Three Sisters

Each November, we recognize National Native American Indian Heritage Month and the significant contributions the first Americans made to establishment and growth of the United States. If you like to eat—and don’t we all?—tip your hat to those who created our country’s agricultural foundation.

The “Three Sisters” is a clever interplanting method used by Native American Indians where corn, beans, and squash are symbiotically grown together. The term was originally coined by the Iroquois tribe, but has been used by many Native American Indians and continues to be a planting method for many home growers today. 

Think of the Three Sisters as the Holy Trinity of some Indigenous cultures, a trifecta of agricultural sustainability, and as the base of a really good soup.
- Andi Murphy, journalist and producer for Native America Calling, from the Navajo Nation

The Iroquois agricultural system is based on the hill-planting method. First, several kernels of corn are planted in a hole. As the seedlings begin to grow, farmers mound the soil around the plants, creating a hill about one foot high. Beans are then planted in circles around the corn. The beans provide nitrogen to the soil, which supports the corn. In turn, the corn provides a vertical structure for the bean vines to climb. 

Squash are planted in rows between the hills and these low-growing crops provide shade to the ground, preserving moisture and inhibiting weed growth. When the Three Sisters are planted in this way, the three of them work for each other’s mutual benefit. 

Three Sisters Companion Planting Technique

A fourth “sister,” typically sunflowers or bee balm, is often planted in the area as well, to attract pollinators and distract birds from the corn. 

As the saying goes, “What grows together goes together,” and the Three Sisters is no exception. Try a Three Sisters Stew and take time to read more about what the Three Sister’s mean to Native Americans. 


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