Planting the "Three sisters"

Whitney Point, NY(Zone 4b)

Do any of you plant the corn, squash and beans together? Seems like a possible way to go, but I want maximum production. I'm not trying to save space; but I've read that raccoons, etc., are reluctant to walk across the squash/pumpkin vines to get to the corn. Have you actually done this? How were the yields? I suppose I could plant the corn and surround it with squash. Thanks.

Benton, KY(Zone 7a)

Usually, the pumpkin vines are surrounding the cornfield, but you have to have a very thick carpet of leaves and vines to keep the raccoons out. They won't be held at bay with one or two plants.

Whitney Point, NY(Zone 4b)

Thanks Melody. I found another site that said to plant the corn first, then two weeks later you plant the squash, followed two weeks later by the pole beans.

SARANAC, NY(Zone 4a)

my grandfather used to put the pumpkin seed into the hopper with the fertilizer - the corn seed came out by itself - the fertilizer came out in a 2" stream with the pumpkin seed included - didn't seem to affect germination at all - he always had wagon loads of them to feed his critters: I don't know as I would put my pole beans into my corn - just my personal opinion.......

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

I have three sisters planting planned for this year. One patch with corn, beans, and pumpkin. Another with corn, sunflowers, and squash or cucumbers. In one of my books, I think it is Great Garden Companions, by Sally Jean Cunningham, there is a diagram of how to plant. It is not using the row method. If you are interested, I will try to scan that in later and post it, or at least type up the descriptions...

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

I'm interested! Please post the pic. I planted corn, squash and beans together last year, but wasn't happy with the yield. Maybe planting them differently would help.

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Here is the text while I attempt to scan in the diagrams...

"Wide Swath for Pumpkins...

Whether you're planting pumpkins as part of a Three Sisters plot or planting a whole pumpkin field, there is no such thing as a 3-foot-wide bed of pumpkins! Pumpkins crawl, sprawl, and stretch in all directions, regardless of paths and neighboring plants. So I (Sally Jean Cunningham) plan on that and give them double-wide beds, once again with a narrow board of stepping stones down the center for getting into the bed when harvesting. I plant my hills in alternating beds, leaving plenty of open space for them to fill as they grow.

"But I don't let that space go to waste! I either plant corn and beans for a Three Sisters combination, or I put wide sheets of black plastic in and around the pumpkin hills.

"There are two ways to plant the Three Sisters, as shown below and on page 80 [see diagrams in next post]. Both methods start with a circle of corn plants about 2 feet in diameter. Once the corn sprouts and reaches 6 inches tall, you can plant beans around the corn. Then, with one method, you plant the pumpkin seeds in a row between the hills.

"With the second method, you plant the pumpkin seeds at the edge of every seventh hill, as shown. When I use black plastic mulch around my pumpkins, I spread lot of aged or partially aged manure before I lay the plastic. Sometimes I put down leaves and shredded newspaper, too. (I'm careful not to let any "hot" manure touch my growing plants.) That way, I build the soil at the same time I have dedicated space to the pumpkins. Also, the plastic is wonderful for totally blocking weeds. I use it wherever weeds have been a problem and whenever I suspect the manure is not fully composted." (comes from her horse)

from Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham.

Diagrams on the way~ Tamara

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Well, I scanned in a bitmap that my computer won't read. So excuse me while I figure this out. I may go to the ocmputer forum for help. Hope I don't leave anyone hanging...

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Well, I probably did that in record time (for me) with few interruptions LOL
There will be four pictures. First the Diagram for Method one, then the palnting detail for it...

Thumbnail by TamaraFaye
Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Detail for method one

Thumbnail by TamaraFaye
Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Method 2 diagram

Thumbnail by TamaraFaye
Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Detail for Method 2... Sure hope this info is usual to others. I plan to try it this year, probably the second method.

Thumbnail by TamaraFaye
Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

Those are great diagrams. Thank you Tamara!

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Many welcomes :-)

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Hilltop Daisy~
Have you decided how you are going to plant them, or if?

I measured out a space today, smaller than what I had planned. With Method 2, I can get all this in a 10x50' spot:

210 cornstlks
140 bean plants
10 pumpkin plants

Last year I grew 80 cornstalks in a 12x20 space. 500 sq feet this year, 240 last year. Way more than twice as much stuff in twice the size lot, I like it!

I will have double rows of sunflowers on the east and west side of the 5 circles. 200 linear feet of poly-petaled glory. Thanks for inspiring me, can't wait to get it planted. According to another thread, it is safe to plant corn when oak leaves are the size of a squirrels ear. That would be about now where I live.

Tamara AKA Cornius

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

Somewhere I read a post about when to plant each of the three sisters, there were a week or two between each and a particular order to plant in. Did anyone else see it? I can't find it now. :( Is there a timing that you use?

Spokane Valley, WA(Zone 5b)

My 2005 copy of the "Old Farmer's Almanac" says to plant the corn kernels when the danger of frost has passed, plant the bean seeds when the corn is about 5" tall, and then plant the squash seeds about a week later. :)

Renton, WA(Zone 8a)

perfect! thank you!

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Thanks Donna!

Did some measuring today, and wanted to pass this along. For the row method, Your bed will need to be at least 10 feet wide, plus walking area. I am going to use two 6 foot wide beds, and the walking space will be to get to the squash. Will start planting that corn tomorrow (early corn)

The cricle method only needs just under 10 ft.

Thinking about building a marker with my kids tinkertoys, to make the hexagon with 12 inch sides, and pokers to make the holes.

Dexter, NY(Zone 5a)

I have a teenage son who is nuts about fishing and is a daily source of fish (and fish guts). I think that I read someplace that Native Americans used to bury their dead fish (more likely the fish guts...since they ate the fish, presumably) in their corn mounds.

The only thing I can see wrong with this picture is that animals would dig up the mounds to eat the fish. Does anyone know when they put the fish there? Obviously I am trying to kill two birds with one stone here (solving my fish-gut disposal issue).

We have a number of feral cats roaming the yards and gardens. I am thinking of burying the cats with the fish, but am only held in check by the idea that the cats are keeping rabits from the garden.

Augusta, GA(Zone 8a)

You are correct. Animals like cats, possums skunks etc will come running to dig up buried fish heads. Other than that it works fine and you can bury them anytime they are available. As far as the Native American stories, most of these originated with coastal tribes, who had a surplus of fish during the spring spawning runs. There are still a lot of trash fish (like Menhaden) used in the commercial fertilizer industry.

Santa Cruz Mountains, CA(Zone 9a)

I've thought about doing a three sisters planting in past years but never got around to working out the logistics and have planted lettuce and radishes between the corn instead. But this year will be different, thanks to all the good information you all have provided.

My current plan is to try TamaraFaye's method 1 in one of my 9-foot square beds. There will be a slight twist, which will cut out one squash plant. There is a permanently planted beautiful 5 foot red dahlia planted squarely in the middle where that pumpkin belongs. It will stay. Should look great peeking out from the corn and rising above the pumpkins. The other possible bed has a permanent artichoke in the
center. That would work too. Maybe next year.

If my current rainy day vision gets off the ground, so to speak, I will post photos in August or September.

Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

oldseed...Hehehe...I taught my daughter the "buried fish fertilizer" method when she was about 5. She thought it was so cool! However, she realized how bad the fish guts smelled as we dug the holes to put them in for the corn patch. But heck, she helped me catch all those catfish outta the river, watched me clean them and enjoyed seeing their innards (I even showed her how to float the air bladder in the bucket of water and let her learn that is how fish determine their depth of swimming). It was good to see her learn to use every part of the fish and also benefitted from the sweet corn we grew that year!

I didn't have any troubles with animals digging up the fish but it could be that I buried it fairly deep and made sure to not leave any fish water or guts on top of the ground. I suppose if the fish isn't buried deeply enough animals would be enticed to sample some of it though. (I've also heard other folks say that the use of fish emulsion brings in the cats and misc animals but I've never had that problem either. Have no idea why though.)

I think you should use your son's fish guts/heads, etc. Just buy them deep. Don't think I'd add them to your compost pile though...the stink might upset your neighbors!

Dexter, NY(Zone 5a)

Ha! thanks horseshoe for the advice. My son's out tonight again for bullheads and will be cleaning them in the morning. The only kid I know who cleans fish and has them for breakfast. Tomorrow i'll have him put the fish in the future cornfield..deep!!

Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

You're a mighty lucky Dad! Your son brings you the fish and it sounds like he cleans them for ya too!! Yay!!! Ya done good, bringin' that one up right! Wish I could join him fishing! (Then we could both watch him dig in the guts in your garden while we have that extra cup of coffee and supervise!) ;>)

Dexter, NY(Zone 5a)

Funny thing. The only thing I am truly allergic to is fish oil. I never could eat fish either or even stand the smell of fish. So it is a mixed blessing that my son brings in so much fish these days. Fortunately at seventeen he can catch them, clean them, make a great batter and cook them...but nothing being perfect, I usually end up doing the dishes! He can donate the fish remains to the Three Sisters and make the vegetable goddesses happy, and I won't mind.

We count our blessings being also grateful that "ain't nothin' perfec".

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

oldseed, I too didn't have a problem with animals digging up fish parts. Last year i got dead minnows from our local bait shop. They were always frozen in bags. Lazy me, I didn't even dig a hole, just buried them under the alfalfa mulch that i had hilled the corn with. Alfalfa is good for corn, deters the fall armyworm... Anyhow, maybe the strong scent of the alfalfa helped, or the fact htat most of the fish were pretty small, though someitmes fifty in a bag.

Shoe you can come fishing up here, Walleye Capital of the World! Or join us in Texhoma for the RU!

CA Poppy~ I love your ideas and vision! I definitely want pictures. The only picture I could provide right now is of a row cover I got on today LOL. The tinkertoys were unnecessary. simply make a cricle and put six-eight (or more) evenly spaced, then thin to six. Then I did a little extra with the space in between: Cosmos between the corn, and dwarf marigolds in front of the cosmos, then radishes sprinkled all around (to help deter squash bugs, let them go to seed). When I plant the squash, I will plant nasturtiums with them (see the thread on companion planting)

FYI~ A friend of mine who is also doing three sisters this year told me an interesting story last week. She had been curious about the cricles of corn, so she asked her grandmother if she could read their family heirloom gardneing journal. It was written in by her GGGF, around civil war time. The pages are yellowing, but what she could make out looked like two rows of corn with one row of squash, then two of corn. Also, it mentioned a "green vine", and she isn't sure if that is referring to the squash or pole beans. It is very difficult to read and written in old english language and handwriting style. Sounds fascinating. So that is how she will plant. She will add the beans though, bush and pole, because I shared some info with her on the companion beneifts of the two.

"Planting Tips: Bush beans are good legume companions for corn as long as you time plantings so that the beans aren't flowering at the smae time the corn is tasseling. If these two stages coincide, the plants will be competing for water. Plant beand either one or two weeks after corn emerges in the early summer, or in the late summer just before it's time to harvest the corn." "The key to succes lies in planitng dates. In Columbia, beans planted 20-30 days before corn reduced fall army worms; corn planted 20-40 days before beans reduced leafhoppers. [Altieri, Miguel A. 1978. A review of Insect Prevalence in Maize and Bean. Polycultural Systems 1:33-49] You may wish to study this relationship in yuor own garden"

Although this refers to bush beans, previously in the text, it generally spoke of "legume companions", so I thought this owuld help with YET ANOTHER answer on the timing of the palntings... :-) I will post a little more info in the companion planitng thread...

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

My three sisters planting after 6 inches of snow. Only the radishes had sprouted. Corn does love rain, so maybe the snow will be good for it...

Thumbnail by TamaraFaye
Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

The snow melted that afternoon, and the corn was up (about 1/3 of it). Today it was really looking good, may have to thin it since I put 10 per circle. Got the other row of circles planted today also.

Langley, WA(Zone 7b)

I planted in the 3 sisters method this past weekend. My garden is smaller tho and I only have two circles. I have more corn (a different variety) in another garden bed and did that in rows with potatoes, broccoli, and onions. I started all the plants indoors in the greenhouse but I have more seeds I could put in. I didn't do the timing thing with the seeds I started indoors and I put them all in the ground on the same day. I also put sunflowers between the circles and behind the pumpkins and I put sweet peas and morning glories along the fence. I have more space and lots more seeds so I guess I should expand for a bumper crop.

I had read about the fish emulsion and the Indian thing too and while I was planting, dh said one of our tny goldfish was dead in the pond so I told him to bring it over and I buried it in the center of one of the corn circles. It was tiny but boy did it reek!

We moved into this house this past January so this is our first time with a *major* (for us) garden. We have toyed with a few plants here and there in the past and while we've ended up with a few corn, tomatoes, and some lettuce, I've never had real success with pumpkins, have never tried potatoes, broccoli, nor onions. So we're hoping for some success this year! I'm enjoying reading all the companion gardening books and also tried the lasagne method in two beds, altho I have not put anything in those beds yet. I was saving one for strawberries but when I called to order the plants, they told me it was too late in the season. :( Maybe I will put the tomatoes in there.


Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Gwen, it may not be too late, try to order from Simmons Berry Farm, they are growers, and have very good prices, plus you get the plants direct. I don't have my bed ready yet :-( You can call them and get a free catalog as well..

Your garden sounds great! If you have any daturas, they are supposed to help pumpkins grow if planted nearby.

Two circles should do fine, I have seen other people do that, but I never stopped to ask them about their yield, so who knows? I would be concerned about having the sunflowers BETWEEN the circles, if that is what you said, because that will inhibit pollination. But if they are just between the other corn and the circles, that is perfect. Just wasn't clear on which you meant.

Glad you are enjoying companion planting! I am finding out that those "don't plant together" theories really make a difference when you are planting in small beds, or using intensive methods. I have some interesting findings on the tomato/cabbage myth, join me at the other companion planting thread...

I got the other 20 ft row of 5 circles planted the other day. So soon I will be planting the winter squash. Still tyring to keep the rabbits off the corn that is up, just have a row cover on it, and the radishes don't like the extra heat very much! (I just threw out a bunch of seed to keep away the squash bugs)


This message was edited May 10, 2005 1:45 PM

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

My second row is declaring! And now both rows have row covers. Don twust dose wabbits! The radishes are doing fine, and the cosmos, zinnia, and marigolds and sunflowers are up too.

Who else is planting three sisters? Still plenty of time to get started...

Windermere, FL(Zone 9b)

I plan on planting the three sisters in August which, for our area, is the next time corn can be planted. But I'm wondering about squirrels. We have a terrible problem with them under normal conditions, I'd hate to attract more with the corn. Does anyone have any experience/advice with this problem? Margaret

Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

A gun.

I had to quit growing corn for quite a few years, dang it! Squirrels would get to it long before I did, and they got more of it, too. (They still eat more of our peaches than we get also!)

For some reason, this past summer we had our first corn patch in a long time and the squirrels left it alone. Didn't touch a single ear. And we have 100's of squirrels around here!

The only thing I can remember doing different is using Espoma plant food tilled into the ground before planting. I have no idea if that somehow deterred the squirrels or not...(I seriously think not!) but sure is funny how they left my corn alone.

Only other deterrent I can offer (other than a gun) is to keep a dog out there that hates squirrels as much as I do (well, I actually love squirrels; just prefer them fried or in a piquante sauce) or just be up early and run them off before they have breakfast on your tab. Of course now, a small patch could be fenced in I suppose but would need to have a top on it, too.

Windermere, FL(Zone 9b)

Horseshoe, A gun sounds good to me but I have a few neighbors that would probably have a problem with it. I've never heard of Espoma plant food. What is it and is it readily available at garden shops? I'm a fairly new gardener so I'm not up on many products. I do have a couple of dogs, but the fenced area that we allow them in really doesn't have room because we already have a grapefruit, blood orange, carambola and avocado in that area. I did think of a cage as well, but that seems like a lot of work. Margaret

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

I remember reading in her book that Ruth Stout spent $300 on a cage (a LONG time ago), chain link, roof and all. It lasted her for years though, because she didn't rotate her crops. Must be to cold there for corn smut!

The only squirrels we have are at the nieghbors, and they never even cross the street. They were relocated there (i.e., trapped where they weren't wanted and brought where they were wanted).

On of the purposes of the three sisters is to deter racoons from getting to the corn. They don't like crawling or stepping on the pumpkin vines. Wouldn't squash or cucumbers do the same? You just need them sprawling on the ground. Put out a few stepping stones for yourself, under big leaves where they won't be found by the critters. So maybe it would work for squirrels as well...

If you try, would you be so kind as to let us know? And have a quiet little pellet gun on hand, just in case. Or maybe a slingshot?

Windermere, FL(Zone 9b)

TamaraFaye, I was wondering the same thing myself about the squirrels not wanting to step on the vines. We also have a couple of pine trees in the vicinity of where we'll want to do our planting. I'm planning on having those cut down due to their close proximity to the house (hurricane preparation) and that may deter the squirrels also since they won't have anywhere to climb if I let my dogs out in that part of the yard.

We do have a pellet gun, but I like your idea of a slingshot because I think my nine year old son could really get into that. It'll be a while before I can give you an update on our experience since our Ext. Office recommends the next corn planting for August. Margaret

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Good luck to you, Margaret

Has anybody considered doing succesive planting for their circles. Due to circumstances beyond my preference, my two rows of circles are planted 3 weeks apart (Oops, don't recommend, since they pollinate for TWO weeks) Couldn't help it.

So on my big circles of circles, I was thinking of beginning at the north end (wind prevails from SW), and working my way over a couple of weeks, maybe longer, to the south end? Try to plant each large circle within about one week of the next... For a total of five big circles. It would give a longer harvest time, for corn and beans and pumpkins.

Ideas anyone???

This message was edited May 18, 2005 12:25 PM

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Oops, was just checking the diagram, time to plant the beans. Looks like I forgot to put the corn in the center, hope that wasn't important LOL Too late now!

Fritch, TX(Zone 6b)

Getting ready to hill the first row of circles, weed the second, and begin planting the patch with the big circle of circles.

Has any tried that method yet? Any tips for me? He-llllllllllllll-llooooooo?

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