For years now, I have heard about and seen others grow the three sisters guild and now I am going to plant the corn, beans and squash that make up the guild. This combination of Native American crops aid and nourish each other . What I have learned about the guild is that the traditional varieties of each crop work best in combination rather than the hybridized or GMO (which I would never recommend) breeds which may produce the fruit we want these days but does not feed into the holistic system like the crops of our ancestors.
The dynamics work like this…
The corn creates a trellis for the beans and squash, and the corn excretes a sugar from its roots that feeds the nitrogen fixing properties of the beans. The beans gather nitrogen from the air and store nitrogen in its roots which is made readily available for the squash and corn.
The guild of the three sisters is grown close together in mounds. The ancient planting style creates: nutrients, moisture over the summer as the tight planting acts as a mulch, keeping weeds out, produces food and can be folded back into a compost pile after the fall harvest. It is a closed loop system!
In the South west there is a fourth sister, bee plant ,which is a great pollinator attracting plant.
To plant the Three Sisters I would follow Toby Hemenway’s advice in Gaia’s Gardens advice which I have summarized below…
First, start a series of mounds depending on how much food you will need.
(you will get 4 or 5 ears of corn per mound (small ears)).
Mounds are 3 feet apart, 2 inches high and 1.5 ft in diameter.
Plant 3 or 4 kernels of corn in each mound.
Smaller and multi stocked varieties are suggested (Black Aztec, Hopi White, Tarahumara sweet).
When corn sprouts build the soil up around them, but do not cover the seedlings.
Two weeks after planting the corn, plant some pole beans (not bush beans).
Old world bean varieties recommended : (Four Corners Gold and Hopi Light Yellow).
Coat seeds with inoculant that is specific to legume beans.
Plant 2 or 3 bean seeds near the edges of each corn mound.
At the same time you start the beans, plant squash or pumpkins between each of the mounds (don’t use zucchini as it is too pushy for this guild).
A vining squash is recommended that will sprawl on the soil.
Keep an eye on things and harvest when things are ready.
The beans will be ready first, then the summer squash then winter (depending on which you plant summer or winter squash or both), then the corn!
After the last harvest leave the plants there to decompose and give their nutrients back to the soil and close the loop on this regenerative and delicious guild!
I am going to plant mine in an old compost pile from last fall that I will divide up into three mounds!
I wish you luck with your Three Sisters or Four sisters!