corn beans squash

Three sisters planting – Vernon, BC

“There is no one authentic recipe for this soup ~ it can be made, and is made, in a variety of ways, with different combinations of ‘sisters’.”

A Three Sisters garden is made up of corn, runner beans and squash or pumpkin, traditionally grown by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a sovereign people composed of five (later six) Indigenous nations in Ontario , Quebec and Northern New York. The beans give nitrogen to the soil for corn and pumpkins; the corn stalks support the beans, and the squash leaves provide ground cover that prevents weed growth and conserves moisture.

These basic planting instructions for a Three Sisters garden bed are from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. 

  • ·         In the spring, prepare the soil by adding fish scraps or wood ash to increase fertility, if desired.
  • ·         Make a mound of soil about a foot high and four feet wide.
  • ·         When the danger of frost has passed, plant the corn in the mound. Sow six kernels of corn 2.5 cm. deep and about 20 cm. apart in a circle of about 60 cm. in diameter.
  • ·         When the corn is about 10 cm. tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound.


I planted the corn first – it is from Peru and grows very tall. However the beans quickly outstripped the corn and the squash lingered behind. Finally, the corn started to grow, and the beans started to twine around. I read that scarlet runner beans twine counter-clockwise and pole beans twine clockwise and it seems to be true in this case.  I also remember an elementary school reader from about sixty years ago that described how a whole fish was put into the planting mound to provide nutrients for the plants, but I didn’t have any fish to put in.  Tuna didn’t seem to be appropriate.

The Three Sisters won’t all come to maturity.  The Peruvian corn doesn’t get the right kind of light conditions – I think it needs solid twelve-hour days like it would get in Peru close to the equator,  and the hot growing conditions in the Okanagan will probably cause the scarlet runner beans to ripen too quickly.  The squash should be tasty.

Still I’m happy with the visual results.