What are the Three Sisters? 

The three sisters refers to corn, beans, and squash. These three vegetables were planted together and grew very well with one another. We were dependent on our three sisters crops for survival. Women planted and harvested hundreds of acres of our three sisters crops in our original territory, which is now the state of New York. Today we continue to carry on our tradition of planting the three sisters together. 

3 sisters cornCorn is the oldest sister. She stands tall in the center.  

squashSquash is the next sister. She grows over the mound, protecting her sisters from weeds and shades the soil from the sun with her leaves, keeping it cool and moist. 

Beans Beans are the third sister. She climbs through squash and then up corn to bind all together as she reaches for the sun. Beans help keep the soil fertile by coverting the sun’s energy into nitrogen filled nodules that grow in its roots. As beans grow they use the stored nitrogen as food. 

Images are from a sculpture by Ron Curley, a Mohawk sculptor from Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve in Ontario, CA.  

How to Plant the Three Sisters 

Plant corn in late May. It is best if the ground has warmed and is no longer cold and wet.  

Soak corn seeds for several hours, but not more than eight hours before planting. 

Prepare low hills that are 3-4 feet apart within and between rows. Place 5-7 corn seeds evenly spaced to a depth of 1-1 ½ inches. Cover with soil.  

According to Iroquois tradition, corn seeds should be planted with kind thoughts three days before the full moon.  

After young corn plants come up, begin removing weeds. As you are weeding, gently mound, or hill, the soil around the young plants.  

When the corn plants are about 6 inches high, pole beans and pumpkins can be planted around the corn plants.  

Plant 4-5 bean seeds in each hill. Plant 4-5 pumpkin seeds in every seventh hill, placing them around the young corn plants.  

Three Sisters garden diagram 


Traditional planting method: Corn and beans are planted together. Pumpkin is planted in every seventh hill. The pumpkin seeds can be planted alone, or with the corn and beans in the seventh hill.  

For more information on Oneida agriculture and our community integrated food system, please visit www.oneidanation.org/Tsyunhehkwa/