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Three Sisters Gardening Style

Cygnet Brown is a high school and middle school substitute teacher. She is the author of fourteen books and a long-time gardener.


The Three Sisters Legend

Long ago three sisters lived together in a field, but you never saw three sisters who looked so different. the little sister was small and dressed in green. The middle sister was dressed in a bright yellow dress and the eldest sister stood straight, tall, and slender, guarding her sisters against the hot summer sun. This eldest sister wore a pale green shawl and had long yellow hair that swayed with the summer breezes. The sisters loved one another very much and would have done anything for either of the others. They did not do as well when they were apart.

One day a stranger, a small Lenape boy, came to the three sisters. He was slender as a bow and as fearless as an eagle. The three sisters watched him curiously as he fit his arrow into his bow and carved a spoon with his stone knife.

One day when the boy left the field, the littlest sister was gone. The other two sisters looked and looked, but they could not find her. Once more the Lenape boy came to the field. The two sisters watched as he gathered bamboo at the edge of a stream and make the bamboo into arrow shafts.

That night, the sister who was dressed in yellow was missing. Now only one sister remained. The tall sister who once stood tall in the feel now bowed her head with sorrow at the loss of her sisters. Her hair once golden now tangled and ragged in the wind. Her voice rattled in the wind.

One day during the season of harvest the Lenape boy heard the tall lone sister mourning in the field. He felt sorry for her and took her into his arms and took her to his longhouse. to her surprise, there on a shelf were her two sisters safe and sound. The little sister was keeping the dinner pot full. The sister in yellow sat on the shelf drying for he planned to fill the dinner pot later. Now the third sister joined them, ready to grind meal for the Lenape boy. The three sisters have never separated again.

Three Sister's Gardening Really Works!

The legend of course tells a story relating to the synergistic combination of corn, beans, and pumpkins or squash in the garden. The combination of pumpkin (or other winter squash), corn, and pole beans are companion planting at its best. Corn grows into a natural pole for bean vines to climb. The beans, in turn, fix nitrogen in the soil and improve the fertility of the plot. They also stabilize the corn by further anchoring it against summer winds. Finally, the shallow vines of the squash act as a living mulch, shading out any weeds and preventing moisture from evaporating. In addition, the prickly spines of the pumpkin discourage pests from getting into the corn and beans. The plant residue from all three types of plants incorporated into the soil at the end of the season helps build up organic matter and improves soil structure.

Not only do the three sisters combine well in companion gardening, but nutritionally, pumpkin, beans, and corn also complement one another. Corn is high in carbohydrates. In addition, the amino acids in the beans and corn create a complete protein. The pumpkin provides vitamins in its flesh and a delicious and nutritious oil in the pumpkin seeds.

Three Sister's Video Part I

How to Plant a Three Sister's Garden

Plant your corn first when the leaves on the oak trees are just starting to leaf out. Plant in a bed 5x8 long. Make four rows one foot apart down the center of the bed and dig trenches one inch deep along each row. plant the first row and plant one corn seed every food. Now begin your next row and place your first corn seed six inches in from the end of the row so that rows corn seeds stagger the first rows corn seed. Plant the third row the same the first and the fourth row the same as the second. Sprinkle over corn seed with kelp powder and blood meal. Soak row with water, cover seed, tamp down, and then water again.

Allow corn to begin growing. Once corn is out of the ground, cultivate around your plants and then around the corn plants on the outer edges of the corn, bury bean seeds--two bean seeds per cornstalk around each stalk. Again water well.

Once the beans have started growing and are beginning to grow up the corn stalks, plant pumpkins in each of the outer corners of the bed, two to three seeds per hill. Once the pumpkins have started growing, direct the pumpkin vines around the edges of the garden so that the pumpkin vines surround the corn so that the spines of the pumpkin can most effectively protect the corn from raccoons and other animals that would want to steal your corn.

Harvest your Three Sister's Garden

You can harvest your three sister's garden all at once, or over time. Depending on the varieties you choose, you can pick your corn as sweet corn or to dry for grinding, you can pick your beans as green beans or leave for drying and you can pick your pumpkins when fully ripened.

Once all of the produce is picked from the garden, the fiber rich stalks and vines can be shredded and worked into the soil or it can be fed to livestock and put back onto the garden as manure.

Three Sisters Video Part II


Nicole K on May 25, 2019:

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This is really interesting! Thank you for sharing!

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on February 24, 2015:

Thank you so much Cynthia Hoover! I am glad that you loved the story!

Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on February 23, 2015:

I love the story. Never heard it explained that way! Voted up! Great job!

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on February 02, 2014:

Yes, Theater girl, it is a thing of beauty!

Jennifer from New Jersey on February 02, 2014:

I love this! I have taught this legend to my second graders when we did our Native American unit each year. Then we planted the crops (seeds of course) in little cups. Thanks for sharing this thing of beauty!

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on February 02, 2014:

phdast7 I am so glad that what I have written has brought pleasant memories to you. I feel honored by your evaluation.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on February 02, 2014:

cygnet - I love this hub. You have so beautifully combined the legend and the practical benefits of growing companion crops. My father was Polish and after he retired from the Air Force he started a small (growing larger every year) garden. He always had two long rows of corn and beans with several large squash plants on either end. Amazing. Thanks. Theresa

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on January 30, 2014:

There are a number of tribes that use variations of the legend. I have read that the Iroquois and the Cherokee also have a version of the legend. I am certain there are probably more, but I haven't researched those tribes.

mecheshier on January 30, 2014:

Why thank you. What an amazing compliment. :-) Interesting that it is a Native American legend. Do you know what tribe? Is it just Lenape?

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on January 30, 2014:

mecheshier, I guess we all learn something new every day! I love the fact that I could teach someone as knowledgeable on the subject as you are! Thanks for the vote up!

LongTimeMother, my Australian friend, three sisters is definitely a Native American legend that I am happy to share with you and a story you can now tell Down-Under!

LongTimeMother from Australia on January 30, 2014:

I'm not quite sure how I'm going to feel when I harvest the three sisters currently growing in my garden, cygnetbrown. I'd always just viewed them as fresh, healthy foods before. :) Voted up ++

mecheshier on January 30, 2014:

This is a fabulous article. I have been studying companion planting for decades. I have never heard the term 'Three Sisters'. Lovely post. Thank you. Voted up for useful, interesting and awesome

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on January 30, 2014:

The three sisters is specific to corn, pole beans, and squash or pumpkins.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 30, 2014:

I've never heard companion planting called that. Thanks for the history lesson. We do this already but great job of explaining.

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