Three Sister’s Mound

I recently visited a historical village that focused a lot on the traditional ways of Native Americans.  To put it simply, Native Americans believe(d) in the holistic approach to health and well-being.  They were/are also very resourceful.

What I found particularly interesting is the way they grew their garden to maximize it’s benefits as much as possible.  Here is what I mean…….

The main diet of early Native Americans were squash, pole beans, and corn.  All of these crops were interdependent upon one another; that is, each of these plants help the other plants.  Furthermore, these crops were planted and spaced in a certain way because of this interdependency.  The corn stalk planted in the middle of the mounds act as support for the bean stalks to grow vertically.  This only works with pole beans, and not the bush beans.  Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb.  The beans add nitrogen on the roots of the corn that it needs, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years corn.  Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind.  Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years.  Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans.  The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.  These crops are planted on a “mound.”  

Here is what it looks like:


To learn how to build a similar “Three Sisters Mound,” just follow these steps:

1.  In late May or early June, hoe up the ground and heap the earth into piles about a foot high and about 24 inches across.  The centers of your mounds should be about four feet apart and should have flattened tops.

2.  First, in the center of each mound, plant five or six corn kernels in a small circle.

3.  After a week or two, when the corn has grown to be five inches or so, plant seven or eight pole beans in a circle about six inches away from the corn kernels.

4.  A week later, at the edge of the mound about a foot away from the beans, plant seven or eight squash or pumpkin seeds.

5.  When the plants begin to grow, you will need to weed out all but a few of the sturdiest of the corn plants from each mound.  Also keep the sturdiest of the bean and squash plants and weed out the weaker ones.

6.  As the corn and beans grow up, you want to make sure that the beans are supported by cornstalks, wrapping around the corn.  The squash will crawl out between the mounds, around the corn and beans.


This really works!  I saw many “Three Sisters Mounds” when I was at the historical village and was intrigued with the interdependence of the crops, thereby eliminating the use of pesticides.  WIN-WIN!!

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