Two Sisters

The ‘three sisters ‘ growing system was practised by the Native Americans as an effective way to grow their three most important crops in harmony.

The ground would be heaped into mounds, about a step apart, and a corn kernel planted in each. A bean seed would later be planted alongside the corn in the heaped up earth, and later squash seeds planted in the valleys between the mounds. The principle of this system is that the bean plant uses the straight stem of its neighbouring corn plant as support. In turn, the bean plant fixes nitrogen in the soil for the benefit of all three crops, and the spreading stems of the squash suppress weeds and keep the roots cool and moist.

Sweetcorn grid interplanted with squash and pumpkins

This year we decided to follow our own ‘two sisters‘ variation of this theme, with our winter squash, pumpkins and sweetcorn. Sweetcorn is wind-pollinated and so must be grown in a grid to ensure pollination. We created a grid of 3×4 sweetcorn plants, with three pumpkins and six squash plants spaced between these. Our beans are elsewhere on the plot supported where necessary by canes, so we are not utilising the full potential of this system, but so far the squash and corn plants both seem to be thriving, and the weeds mostly few and far between.

After a week’s holiday, we came back this weekend to find the squash and pumpkins rampant and the sweetcorn standing tall in the sun, forming beautiful feathery flowers.

The squashes and pumpkins had sprawled wildly across the plot, and required quite a bit of trimming to limit the number of fruits forming on each plant.

Three fruits per plant seems to be the recommendation for harvesting squash of medium size, so we cut back the sinuous arms of each plant, and removed further flowers and fruit from each, to hopefully give us a good balance between yield and size. I love the curly tendrils of the squash plants.

These butternut squashes are taking shape nicely among the sweetcorn stems after a little pruning.

Sweetcorn – Swift F1; Squash – (Butternut) Harrier F1; Pumpkin – Baby Pam; Squash – Crown Prince


4 thoughts on “Two Sisters

  1. Great to see how your ‘two sisters’ system is working out as I tried the same last year but the squash was rather pathetic (I think due to lack of water) so I have gone back to planting just the corn this time around. I love the curly tendrils as well 🙂

  2. Last year was our first attempt at growing squash, but sadly the plants were in the path of the diggers so they didn’t survive our building work 😦 This year I am rather over-excited watching them grow, fingers crossed that they come to something or I suspect we won’t try them again, as they take up so much space! Must water them lots…

  3. I grow mine in big pots (squash that is) as I don’t have the space in the raised beds, it also means I have to water them, they are on my daily ‘pots’ round. I do hope they turn out well for you as they are one of my favourite things to grow, especially the ugly ones – the kids love how they look!

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