Companion Planting - Three sisters


Companion Planting

Companion planting is the practice of planting two or more plants together for mutual benefit. 

Plants need good companions to thrive. Except for growth and fruiting, plants are relatively idle objects. They are rooted in one spot and don’t seem to have much control over their environment. In fact, however, relationships between plants are varied - similar to relationships between people. In plant communities, certain plants support each other while others, well, just don’t get along. Plants, like people, compete for resources, space & nutrients.

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So we plant some root crops, ground covers, herbs, bigger plants, and so on, all together. They’ll have different root systems and different above ground heights.

Some grow tall and provide shade and others hug the ground. Some are ready for harvest early, while others wait a while, even within the same food group, such as lettuces.


With a lot of experimentation and observation, you can hit upon a collection of crops that work well together for your organic garden. But even without all the planning, simply by combining these plants, we get increased biodiversity and the benefits that come with that.

We’ll have reduced yields on some plants and others may not do well at all during the experimentation phase, but we should have better overall garden health and often improved yields overall.

Three sisters

Corn, beans, and squash are called the “three sisters.” Native Americans always inter-planted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.


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  • Corn. Provides a support for the beans.

  • Pole Beans. Provide nitrogen for the soil.

  • Squash. Leaves hug the soil to decrease weeds and evaporation.

This is an excellent example of vegetable companion planting. They all help each other, and they even work together to make a reasonably balanced meal.

Just these 3 plants show us that companion plants can act as a scaffold, improve organic soil fertility, and decrease weeds and evaporation. Some of the other benefits might be:

  • Attracting beneficial insects and other organisms

  • Decreased disease and insect predators

  • Healthier plants through symbiotic relationships

  • Increased overall yields

Three Sisters @ Soil & Water Garden


Slow Food USA, is part of the global Slow Food movement and helps in transforming the way food is produced, consumed, and enjoyed word wide.  They have generously donated several seed varieties to Soil & Water for us to plant in the garden this year.  In particular, the 3 sisters are highlighted from their 'Ark of Taste' catalog

On Saturday, May 5, 2018, we were lucky to have Hillie Salo, Founder of the One Seed, One Community program, visit Soil&Water garden and share her knowledge of the 3 sisters and help us plant them.  We learned that there is no one way to plant this. You can basically come up with any grouping of corn, bean, squash that you would like to try.  We planted some in a grouping of several rows and some in a circle. We also had a few visiting gardeners from the Mid-west share their knowledge of growing corn.


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