Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Three Sisters: Origin & Wisdom of Companion Planting

According to Iroquois legend, three women miraculously sprang from Sky Woman’s daughter. These women, known as the physical and spiritual sustainers of life came to be represented by corn, beans, and squash. These three plants were a gift from Sky Woman that provided the main food supply to sustain their culture.  

As translated by the Iroquois, this gift taught them to begin with planting corn. As the seedlings grew soil was mounded around the young plants. Several weeks after corn was planted, the women planted bean seeds in the newly created hills. The beans provided additional nitrogen to feed the roots of the corn and the stalks of corn provided a sturdy pole for the beans to use as they grew.  

In between the hills of corn and beans, the farmers planted low-growing crops with large leaves to shade and cool the ground; this was essential to tribes living where the heat of summer or periods of drought might ruin the crop. Over time, squash and pumpkins became the preferred planting to fulfill this duty. Not only did the large leaves shade the ground, they inhibited the growth of weeds, their prickly leaves kept pests at bay, and they helped keep the soil moist. 

Monsoon in Tucson, AZ - Photo by Mike Shipyor

Here in the desert southwest, native peoples discovered great success if they timed their planting of the Three Sisters with the onset of the monsoon rains. The monsoon plantings are still ritualized annually with celebrations held after the seeds are planted on Dia del San Juan or St. John’s Day in late June. Instead of mounding hills, these arid land farmers learned that by digging garden pits and using what we now call compost they were able to slow the rainwater and better capture and hold the moisture for the plantings.

After the Monsoon - Photo by Mike Shipyor 

There are many important lessons to learn from the Three Sisters for those of us striving to build sustainable gardens. By practicing companion planting we can:

  • Reduce the quantity of nitrogen based fertilizers added to the soil.
  • Reduce our dependence upon pesticides by using plants to provide protection.
  • Use less water and utilize the rains better.

For seed combinations that will provide you with lots of options for Three Sisters Plantings, visit this link!

Do yourself and your garden a favor and learn more about the many possibilities for companion planting. Here are a few resources that may help you get started:

Companion Planting - Vegetable Gardening Plant Combinations

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