Three Sisters gardening is a method of companion planting developed by Native American Indians more than 1,000 years ago. The seeds of corn, beans, and squash are planted together in mounds or rows. As they grow, the bean vines climb the corn stalks as a trellis while the squash covers the soil with living green mulch. The gardens are dense, prolific, and beautiful.
Tres Hermanas gardens once grew abundantly across North America. However, the secret of the sisters has been lost to modern gardeners.
Rediscovering Tres Hermanas
There is a resurgence of interest in Tres Hermanas. Companion planting is a highly productive and sustainable way to grow vegetables. Garden space is maximized by multiplying the effect of organic inputs, extending and increasing the harvest, and revitalizing the soil. And Tres Hermanas thrives without the use of chemicals.
Tres Hermanas is part of a dynamic and holistic program on our farm. I do not rely exclusively on companion planting; it is a component of my operation. However, Tres Hermanas serves an important function in my plan due to the efficiency of the garden and the profit generated on that space.
Benefits of Tres Hermanas Companion Planting
1. Higher yields on same square-footage (maximizes space)
2. Greater production, diversity, and density in garden (maximizes inputs)
3. Fast plant growth and quick vegetable production (rapid returns)
4. Longer growing season as each phase matures (maximizes time on space)
5. Easy to maintain (less work)
6. NO chemicals required (better health)
7. Revitalizes the soil (highly sustainable)
8. Beautiful (dual use plants)
The strength of this system is the amazing synergy of these plants with each other and their environment. The plants work together to mulch and feed the soil, and to regulate soil temperature and moisture. Beans are a nitrogen fixer; they fertilize the corn and squash as they grow. Their compatibility allows, almost demands, an organic approach.
In a good garden, the plants cooperate with their environment. Birds, wasps, ladybugs, and frogs hunt in their lush sanctuary of foliage to cleanse the crop of harmful pests. Bees hang continually about the garden as they pollinate. A Tres Hermanas garden is alive and colorful and dynamic and changing.
And the gardens are beautiful. Tiny white bean flowers climb the deep green stalks and burst into long string beans. The vibrant yellow-orange squash blossoms are an edible delicacy that can be harvested without harming the prolific summer and winter squash. Purple corn silk flares from the tight-fisted cobs and fades to brown when the kernels are ready. For a long summer, the corn stalks rustle gently in the wind.
Tres Hermanas in Small Farms and Backyard Gardens
A friend of mine planted Tres Hermanas in an old flower bed next to her house. She wanted to grow vegetables and was inspired to fill that space with the three sisters. Her flower bed became a beautiful little garden, a living history lesson for the kids, and a plentiful source of healthy delicious vegetables.
Many of my friends struggle with backyard gardens that seldom yield a generous harvest, and sometimes fail to produce anything. I recommend to them Tres Hermanas grown in a natural program. This method was perfectly adapted to our own native soil during a thousand-year partnership with the land. Tres Hermanas will happily make itself at home in your backyard garden.
I recently visited a small-scale working farm where a gentleman grew corn in one part of the garden, squash in another, and beans against a trellis fence. He could have planted the same crops in the Tres Hermanas method and more than tripled his production—with less expense and a lot less work.
Any good vegetable garden, anywhere in America, can benefit from this method.
No Thank You to Chemicals
Indians grew Tres Hermanas for centuries without any chemicals whatsoever. Indians and pioneer farmers used methods that worked. If their gardens failed, they starved.
Here is the remarkable truth: A natural garden is less expensive and less work than a chemical garden. Natural gardens are more productive and more resistant to pests and disease, especially in the long run. And the vegetables grown in a natural program are more flavorful and more delicious than what comes out of a garden full of chemicals.
Whether or not you implement Tres Hermanas, please let the message resonate that you can grow a superior garden without the use of chemicals.
The Secret of Tres Hermanas
Before trying something new in the garden, I try to collect and study as much information as possible. It is important to anticipate the challenges of a new approach, predict for the profitability of the harvest, and learn from the success and mistakes of others. Farming is my living–like the Indians, I cannot afford to miss.
However, I could find almost no useful information about Tres Hermanas on the internet, in gardening books, or from gardening experts. The absence of good information about Tres Hermanas is a gap I hope to close with these articles. Some secrets should be told.
Index of Articles
The following guide offers an overview to Tres Hermanas companion planting from seed to harvest to table. To access the articles, click the category “Tres Hermanas Guide” on the right-hand side of this page. As each article is posted, I will link them below. Good luck and happy gardening!
History of Tres Hermanas
Preparing the Soil
Planting the Seeds
Mulching the Garden
Watering the Garden
Harvesting the Garden
Recipes for Tres Hermanas