Long ago meat was hunted or fished, berries, nuts, wild growing greens and roots were gathered, but the diet staple, the “Three Sisters” were planted and grown. Whether it was by accident or observation the “Three Sisters” – corn, beans, and squash not only complemented each other while growing but also in the diet. 

While growing, the corn stalks allowed structure for the beans to grow and creep up. The beans took in nitrogen from the air and converted it into a usable source in the soil.  The prickly leaves and vines of the squash kept away small critters and its leaves provided shade for the ground to retain moisture for all three to grow.

Nutritionally, corn and beans lack certain amino acids, the building blocks of protein, which the other has. Together, they make a complete protein that is usable by our bodies. They also contain fiber, iron and other minerals. Squash, especially winter squash has vitamins and other nutrients that are necessary for the body.

Choosing your seeds can be as easy as a trip to the seed store, or you may wish to do more research and choose seed varieties more traditional to a Native Americans long ago. These websites may help you get started: 

• http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/native-american-garden-zm0z13fmzsto.aspx

• http://www.nativeseeds.org/resources/native-american-free-seed-program

To plant the three sisters:

•Choose a planting site in full sun. Work plenty of nitrogen rich fertilizer either natural or purchased into the soil.

•Whether planting one or twenty mounds, each should be about one foot high, two to three feet across and three feet between each mound.

•Plant the corn first between May and June when nighttime temperatures are above 50 degrees. Plant six to eight corn kernels 1-1½” deep in a small circle. –Remember to    water, if it isn’t raining, and gently weed.

•When corn stalks are about six inches tall, plant your beans around your corn stalks.  Plant six to eight bean seeds 1” deep around the corn stalks. Then plant four squash or pumpkin seeds around the bean seeds 1”deep, closer to the edge of your mounds.

•As the beans grow you may need to help at first by wrapping them around the corn stalk.

•Water once a week if it isn’t raining.

Harvesting the three sisters
•Corn- Harvest when the silk is a dark brown.

•Beans- Harvest fresh, when pods are firm but before the seeds swell. They are mature when they are dry on the vine.

•Squash- Winter squash should be picked when the skin is thoroughly hardened. Summer squash may be picked as baby squash or allowed to grow larger.

Preparing and cooking the three sisters may be done in a variety of ways either together or separately. Look for a few recipes combining all three sisters in the next Hownikan or experiment and create your own.