Iroquois Indian legend states that farming among the Native American tribes began with three sisters who worked together to grant the people
the gift of a plentiful harvest. One sister
provided strength, one provided protection, and one provided nourishment. Native peoples used many techniques for
gardening, but the most well-known is
the planting of three plants together: corn,
beans, and squash, known as the Three
1 This was the beginning
of companion gardening. Because of this
knowledge, Native Americans were able
to teach arriving European settlers how to
be successful farmers.
The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans,
Corn is the centerpiece of the trio of sis-
ters and is generally planted first. Since
it grows as upright stalks and can reach
heights of over ten feet, it is the perfect
support for pole beans whose vines can
climb the stalks as they grow. These pole
beans are the “second sister.” This inter-
twining of corn and beans is reflective of
not just their physical interdependence,
but their nutritional interdependence.
Corn is high in calories and sugars but
lacks two critical amino acids. Interestingly, beans have the amino acids corn
lacks and are higher in protein. Corn
drains the soil of nutrients, but beans
help to put nutrients back into the soil.
The third sister is squash. Squash helps
the corn and beans as it spreads its vines
and huge leaves over the ground, thereby covering it. By covering the ground,
it keeps moisture in the soil and deters
weeds from growing among the plants.
It is in this way that squash helps the
others, while the squash benefits mostly
from the bean plants, since it also drains
the soil of nutrients. Squash is a highly
nutritious food containing many vita-
mins and minerals, with all parts being
edible, from the flowers to the seeds.
By growing these three plants together,
Native Americans had foods that could
be stored year round, allowing them to
stay in one place. This enabled them to
have permanent settlements that sometimes grew very large. These were the villages that European settlers encountered
and which made it possible for them to
survive and eventually thrive.
Planning the Garden
You can grow a Three Sisters garden, too.
This is a great project for teaching your
children about how God designed certain plants to help each other and help
us. You will need to get started right away
so that your plants will be ready to harvest by late summer or early fall.
A Native American
by Julie Polanco
This is a great project for teaching your children about how
God designed certain plants to help each other and help us.