This summer we are conducting an agricultural experiment, planting The Three Sisters. We are documenting this for future educational use. The Three Sisters are maize (corn), beans and squash. They were planted together by many Native American farmers. In our region the southern Delaware Indians, the Lenape, do not appear to have been farming until later in time, around the point of colonization. The northern Delaware, the Munsee, were experimenting with agriculture prior to colonization, and further north the Iroquois were absolutely farming. Among the Iroquois the story of The Three Sisters tells why the crops were planted together. In the myth the three sisters fought and went their separate ways, only to later realize they were stronger when they lived and worked together.
The Three Sisters were very easy to plant by Native Americans. Each of the crops had over time adapted to the East Coast and Northeast, so they did not require special soils, fertilization or irrigation methods to prosper. The Iroquois could easily plant them with simple hoes and digging sticks. The corn stalks offer a natural trellis for the beans to grow up, and the squash leaves shade the plants roots and bases. All three plants utilize different nutrients from the soil, so they don't interfere with the others growing cycle. They also provided a well-rounded diet, with the corn offering a good source of starch and once ground being the basis of most of the Iroquois meals, such as breads, soups and stews. The beans offered a good source of protein, which lessened the reliance on hunting animals. They all offered a good source of vitamins as well.
It's very easy to plant these crops together. We have three boxes in which we are growing White Sweet Corn in each, and then a variety of different beans and squashes between them. There are different methods when it comes to spacing these out. A YouTube video we've linked to explains this. If you are planting a large quantity and, in a field, you may wish to consult these tried and trusted methods of spacing the crops out. However, if you wish to try this experiment for whatever reason, be it for school, or your own personal garden, you can safely plant the seeds spaced apart from one another as we have done and not following any planned pattern. We simply dug a few holes about ten inches apart and in one placed some bean seeds, in another the corn seeds, and so forth. While you can use different beans and squash plants, you will want to use the same variety of corn. This is because corn cross-pollinates, and if you plant different types together then you will not produce a quality corn crop. As they grow you also may want to encourage the bean vines to climb your corn stalks by wrapping the vines around the stalks.
It's only been about a month since we planted our crops, so they have a ways to go, but we've already begun harvesting some squash! Of course you can also find our farm's squash ready in our market right now.