The Three Sisters a Foodscaping project

the three sisters a foodscaping project
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Three Sisters, your first ‘foodscaping‘ project

Welcome to the three sisters foodscaping project! Here’s a great place to start for beginners and professionals alike. Finding a starting point for any project can be tricky, so here at the Backyard Farmer, we have outlined the first project to get you going.

The three sisters project is perfect even if your garden is small or your yard space is limited. It is also low maintenance as the ‘Three Sisters’ uses companion planting, meaning the plants help each other.

Companion planting

This technique is where plants are grown close to other plants that can benefit them or each other during their life cycle. Another example of companion planting is mint alongside tomatoes or carrots. The scent confuses insects that feed on vegetables, such as alliums and brassicas.

The story of the ‘Three sisters’ and the legends

The Three Sisters’ legends 

If you are into growing vegetables, you have likely heard about the ‘three sisters’ before. The three sisters is a method of growing vegetables North American people used widely before colonialism.

The three plants support each other in various ways. The main benefits are added nitrogen to the soil, support for the beans and shade preventing weeds and evaporation around the plants.

What are the ‘Three sisters’ plants?

The three sisters are three plants:

  1. Pumpkins or squash – whatever type you see fit, mixes are allowed
  2.  Green Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) – any form of green beans
  3.  Corn or sweetcorn – use one type or vary them accordingly

The people of pre-colonial America would use a variety of vegetables within the families mentioned. Different areas will have specific practices, but the method is flexible overall, which allows for more enjoyable variety and is better for our health.

Pumpkins & squash have big sun leaves, providing shade to the base of all three plants, which helps reduce weed growth, lessens the evaporation of water around the roots and keeps the soil cool.

The Green Beans’ role is to provide a nitrogen source to the soil. Nitrogen is essential as it is a significant component of chlorophyll, the compound by which plants use sunlight energy to produce sugars from water and carbon dioxide.

Corn provides support & structure for the nitrogen-giving bean to grab onto and grow.

three sisters foodscaping

Can I plant the three sisters in the UK?

Planting the three sisters in the UK is possible as the combination thrives in the seasonal climate. The method originated in the pre-European North American civilisations, an area with a similar climate to Britain.

Although our native species vary slightly, the families of vegetables used in the ‘Three Sisters’ are available globally, especially in the 21st century. To get a head start, you can germinate and plant your corn inside in the cooler spring months, transferring outside when it’s warmer.

Download a .pdf diagram of the ‘Three Sisters’ a foodscaping project

Feel free to take a copy or to download this infographic of a ‘Three sisters’ planting diagram right here. This simple and informative infographic will help you plan and execute your first foodscaping project.

What type of beans should I use for the ‘Three Sisters’?

The traditional beans for most three sisters’ planting techniques are ‘Pinto beans’, which are the beans that would have been available to most of the cultures across the North American continent. However, Pinto beans are the same as any other bean in that it returns nitrogen to the soil and climbs.

As long as the species of bean you choose grows by climbing and returns nitrogen to the soil, you can use them.

What type of corn should I use for the ‘Three Sisters’?

The main types of corn grown these days are sweetcorn, popcorn, flour, dent corn, flint, or pod corn. Most people growing the three sisters combination will be growing sweetcorn, the most commonly used alongside the other vegetables.

Could I plant dried or fresh corn kernels from food?

Yes, you can! If you get stuck for some money and have them lying around, it’s better than nothing. However, it is not very expensive to buy corn kernels, which are available in any garden centre or online shop.

By buying seeds, you also have control over the seed quality. Kernels from foodstuffs may not be the best genetics for growing.

To get your corn going, it needs warm temperatures, around 60f. Any less than 50f will cause the seeds to rot and fail. It is a good idea to start them indoors or in a greenhouse during the colder months in Britain.

Pre-soak the corn seeds/kernels for around 8 hours. Doing so will give them a better chance of germinating in the soil. In turn, it also saves the soil moisture for growing. Once soaked, you can plant the corn kernels straight into the ground or germinate indoors.

What squash or pumpkin should I use for the ‘Three Sisters’ a foodscaping project?

You should use the vegetables best suited to your location. There are so many variations of pumpkins and squash that it would be an extensive list to name them all. The vital thing to note again is function.

Most pumpkin and squash plants have large sun leaves, which are needed to shade the other plants in the three sisters’ project. Use your local summer squash during spring and summer, and use a winter type if you plan later in the year. Remember, you can always mix and match the types of squash and pumpkin you grow as long as they provide shade.

Variations of the ‘Three Sisters’

Pre-colonial people from the USA used three distinct variations of the three sisters. There was ‘The Wampanoag Method’, which they commonly taught to the first European settlers. The Hidatsa Method was more suited to the flood plains of Missouri & The Zuni Method from the more arid regions of the American plains.

Three sisters corn, beans & squash recipe

The other great thing about the three sisters is that once you’ve grown everything, you can eat it! Granted, you can make what you like using the products together or separately, OR you can make a traditional stew.

The three sisters’ stew is one of the nicest, most wholesome stews you can eat that doesn’t contain meat or dairy, making it technically Vegan friendly. A three sisters stew is one of the tastiest. Just check out this recipe with over five stars and 1.1K reviews on Google! –

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