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Heirloom Vegetables: THREE SISTERS GARDEN

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Forum: Heirloom VegetablesReplies: 16, Views: 395
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Louisville, KY

March 7, 2010
9:16 PM

Post #7612201

I volunteer at a History Center in an adjoining county helping to provide seed/plant varieties from the 1700/1800s. I thought it would be interesting this year to plant a Three Sisters Garden which would be 10' x 10' . A kind Dave's garden grower plans to share some Bloody Butcher Corn with me for the garden. What suggestion would you have for a bean and a squash variety to be grown along with the corn? My main interest is in growing tomatoes and I have not had much experience with older bean and squash varieties. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Moss Point, MS
(Zone 8b)

March 7, 2010
9:53 PM

Post #7612235

I don't know but I'd be very interested in hearing all about how it goes at the end of the season. Kentucky has such a rich history with heirloom tomatoes that surely they also have vintage beans and squash. Kentucky Wonder beans are known everywhere but that seems too modern. I think it needs to be something few have heard of and with a story. As a last resort, you could sacrifice State pride and grow Tennessee Sweet Potato squash. Good luck with it.

Central, ME
(Zone 5a)

March 8, 2010
1:29 PM

Post #7613652

Kentucky Wonder is actually and old variety and would probably be a good choice.
As for squash, maybe a buttercup or turk's turban as they are old, too.
Will do some checking. I like history now, but as a school student, I saw no purpose. LOL
Saluda, SC
(Zone 8a)

March 10, 2010
1:26 PM

Post #7619260

Gary, this sounds like a great story. I have often read of this practice, but never seen it really done. !0 X 10 ! That's big enough to get a real idea of what an old garden (would they have called it a garden?) would have been like, planted with the three sisters. I for one would like to share what it is like, preparing, growing, harvesting. Pictures would be great as it progresses. Hint! Hint! don't even ask to be first, just included.
Louisville, KY

March 10, 2010
5:53 PM

Post #7619884

After posting the message above, I contacted a grower who specializes in Native American Seed/Plant varieties because this is his heritage. I indicated that a kind member here is sharing some Bloody Butcher Corn with me and asked what beans/squash would be good to make the Three Sisters Garden. This evening I heard back from him. These are his suggestion in case you want to grow your own garden.

"Turkey Craw would be an excellent bean for you to consider growing. It has a heritage that goes back well over 100 years and it looks very unusual with the appaloosa speckling.

Squash is a bit tougher. The plain old butternut is about as good as it gets for making a good crop that is relatively worry free and has a heritage well over 100 years."

Now to the task of securing my other seed.
Thank all of you for sharing your thoughts and ideas; I think it has been a real learning process for all of us.
Central, ME
(Zone 5a)

March 10, 2010
5:56 PM

Post #7619890

Keep us posted, Gary.
It sounds like a very interesting project.
Louisville, KY

March 10, 2010
6:56 PM

Post #7620043

I wanted to share this link which if you are interested in the agricultural practices of long ago will amaze you. Makes for very good reading with illustrations and a few pictures. Enjoy!

Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden
Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Interpretation.

This is a most amazing account of the life of the Bird Woman and the agricultural practices
Waaaay Down South, GA

March 25, 2010
7:41 AM

Post #7654715

Gary, how is your project coming along?
Austin, TX
(Zone 8b)

March 25, 2010
8:55 AM

Post #7654879

Very cool. Do keep us updated (with photos)!

North, TX

March 25, 2010
9:17 AM

Post #7654930

I was really considering growing The Three Sisters Guild this year & I still may.

My problem is: I did not prepare an area, as you did, VGMKY.

Here's what I have, they are all heirloom varieties:
Golden Bantam corn
Rattlesnake pole bean
I have several squash varieties to choose from. I was thinking of summer squash & have Grey zucchini or Early prolific straightneck summer squash heirloom varieties.

Someone was telling me of their experience with this guild, and said they ended up with a tangled mess of vines between the beans and the squash & they shaded the corn and the harvest was nill.

What kind of placement do you use for each plant, and how much? Is 10' x 10' a standard plot? Did you prepare or condition your soil? I know corn is a heavy feeder. Could I plant with minimal soil preparation?

One bean per corn stalk sounds reasonable. I guess it would depend on what variety of squash you would use as to how many would be necessary.

I know I'm being a problem... but hope to get some answers. ^_^
Thank you.

Louisville, KY

March 25, 2010
9:21 AM

Post #7654939

A gardening friend is sharing Bloody Butcher Corn with me and I will be growing the Turkey's Craw Beans. I found a nice size Butter Nut Squash at the Market and plan to use fresh seed from it. I have been searching for Hickory Cane Corn, a corn variety which has a long history in Kentucky and the Appalachian Mountain regions. If I am able to acquire seed of it I will be growing it in one location and the Bloody Butcher in another because corn crosses so easy. In the reading of the Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden, they practiced staggered corn planting so that it would tassel at different stages thereby preventing cross pollination. I thought this was a neat observation on their gardening practice.
Plans for preparing the growing area and then a wait for warmer temps about the end of April before planting the corn. I will keep you all posted.

This message was edited Mar 25, 2010 12:25 PM

This message was edited Mar 25, 2010 7:49 PM

This message was edited Mar 25, 2010 7:53 PM
Louisville, KY

March 25, 2010
9:29 AM

Post #7654957

"Here's what I have, they are all heirloom varieties:
Golden Bantam corn
Rattlesnake pole bean
I have several squash varieties to choose from. I was thinking of summer squash & have Grey zucchini or Early prolific straightneck summer squash heirloom varieties."

Allwild, I have not grown Golden Bantam. All the information I have found indicates it should be a tall sturdy corn variety otherwise it can not hold up to the added weight of the beans. I guess any of the Squash would work. The Butter Nut was suggested to me because it appears to grow and not fall prey to insects and disease.
Good luck on your garden!


Southern NJ
United States
(Zone 7a)

March 25, 2010
10:44 AM

Post #7655104

Butternut or any of the other moschata have solid stems and are less vulnerable to squash vine borers. What a neat project, Gary!
Wexford, PA

July 3, 2011
5:06 AM

Post #8669198

three sisters is what i do! i have some pre-kinzua allegheny calico flour corn for you from seneca nation, which at one point in time extended down to kentuky, i guess it still does legally... but anyhow, i have many suggestions and seeds. you would do well to plant as much variety as possible. do not use sweet corn or popcorn as they will be too soft and short. cornfield beans are hard to find nowadays with all the american farmers doing french beans and full sun varieties. go to native seeds search. they are easy to find on google. some vadito bolitas and amarillo del norte would do good for you. the butternut would do ok, and if you wanted to you could try some other good mochatas like seminole pumpkin, magdalena big cheese, and long island cheese. i have photos of my three sisters on my website and my email is

please contact me about indigenous agriculture and seed trades.
Louisville, KY

July 3, 2011
7:41 PM

Post #8670643

Turtleheart, Thanks for the information and sharing your two Links with us. I looked through both and am impressed with your websites. I will be in touch with you when I have some spare time. I was pleased to see you are using Buffalo Bird Woman's great web site.
The two projects I shared seed with for the Three Sister's Garden are going well. I have not visited them since the weather has been so hot but hope to when we get a break in the weather. I have heart/health issues and the extreme heat just sucks the life from me.!
Happy Gardening to us All!
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

April 1, 2012
6:37 PM

Post #9066023

What a great thread! I am planning a 3 Sisters area this year and have been a bit frustrated. Several people and a couple of websites insist on Anasazi beans as the bean to plant, but according to everything I can find, Anasazi is a BUSH bean! Also, wouldn't any nice winter squash work? Thoughts?


Monte Vista, CO
(Zone 4a)

July 25, 2012
3:40 PM

Post #9218546

I have three sisters in barley straw bales top dressed with compost. So far so good. Thank you all for great information.

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