Planting the Three Sisters – Corn, Beans & Squash

The team here at AO is excited to share that we’ll be featuring some new contributors here on the GROW blog, all geared to get you inspired to grow. With the season right around the corner, we wanted to offer a resource for anyone out there who wants to go green, whether you’ve never handled a spade to being a well-versed professional, we want to share the experiences of voices from all levels of green-thumbery!

WAY before pallet gardens - this space saving method of companion planting is said to have been started here in the New World as early as the 1300’s by the Iroquois Nation.  When you think about it - corn (maize), beans and squash were all very early agricultural crops.

The Sisterly Love

  • The cornstalk grows tall, sturdy and fast, providing the stake for a pole bean. 
  • The beans harness nitrogen from the air that is useful for all three sisters.  They also hold all three plants close together as they wind through the squash, up the stalk and towards the sun.  Do only use pole beans though, as bush beans will just stay low and intermingle with the squash.
  • The squash with their large, prickly leaves stays low to the ground, shading the ground from sun to keep the weeds down - as the weeds will otherwise steal nutrients and root space in the soil.  The prickles on the leaves also help deter predators from coming to steal the sweet corn. 

Photo: That Blooming Garden

The How

Some seed companies sell packets labeled ‘Three Sisters’ that contain all three seeds, providing a smaller amount of each and cost savings.  I had planned to buy the seeds separately as I love to choose the varieties of each crop but the nursery was out of squash and pole bean seeds so I started with the pre-packaged mix.  Upon opening the package though I found 29 corn seeds, 14 bean seeds and 11 squash seeds.  

As these numbers didn’t align to the planting designs I found online, I noticed most designs had an equal number of beans to corn seeds.  So I chose a design based on what made the most sense to me, although I do recommend you take a peek at other diagrams as there are many.  As the design I chose required supplemental seeds, I tossed in some additional seeds of each to add variety – such as zucchini seeds.


The start of June is the best time in the Pacific Northwest to plant all three of these crops, as the soil has warmed up enough for the seeds to germinate and thrive.  Should you decide to purchase your seed varieties all separately, aim to find seeds that either can all go in the ground at the same time, or find an earlier corn with beans and squash to follow so the beans don’t get ahead of the corn.  IF you are planting this design in stages, you may want to mark where the future seeds will go with a markers of rocks or sticks as I did here when I ran out of bean seeds as the design is fairly complex.  


I hope you are all as excited about this age-old style of planting as I am.

And now - we wait.



OH HI! I’M SONJA – AN OVER THE MOON INFATUATED FOOD GROWER IN BEAUTIFUL SQUAMISH BC WHICH LIES IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST. I LOVE TO GET DIRTY OUTSIDE WITH FUNKY TUNES AND JUST FALL INTO THE MOVING MEDITATION / AMAZING WORKOUT - ALSO KNOWN AS VEGETABLE GARDENING.

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