In gardening, “three sisters” refers to a very specific trio of seeds that had been planted together by the Iroquois for centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The corn, bean, and squash combination is referenced in the Iroquois creation myth but its success is also supported by science. Each of the vegetables contributes to the health and vitality of the other two plants, and together, they ensure soil fertility.
The three sisters are a perfect example of companion planting, but are also a nutritional “powerhouse when combined.” Corn is a great source of energy; beans provide protein and fibre; squash is full of vitamins and minerals. For specific directions on how to plant a traditional arrangement of three sisters seeds, whereby the corn supports the beans and the squash shades their roots, check out Catherine Boeckmann’s article in the Farmer’s Almanac. Click through for Three Sisters Stew and Three Sisters Soup recipes.
The growing season in parts of the prairies may not be quite long enough for a real bountiful harvest, however, if you’re interested in trying it out, Heritage Harvest Seeds (Canadian mail orders only) offers a Three Sisters Heirloom Seed Collection of Hidatsa Shield Figure Bean, Mandan Bride Corn, and Algonquin Pumpkin. The seeds were originally sourced from indigenous peoples in North America, and are now grown on site on the company’s Manitoba farm. Varieties similar to those listed above can also be purchased separately through Seed Savers (Canadian & U.S. orders accepted).