Three sisters update...

27 January, 2013

This year, for the first time, I've trialled the 'three sisters' method of growing corn.

For those who are unfamiliar with the idea it is a system of growing corn, climbing beans and either pumpkin or cucumbers (depending on your reference) together. In theory the climbing beans live up to their names by climbing up the corn, and provide additional nitrogen to the soil as legumes do which helps the corn to grow, and the pumpkin/cucumbers sprawl on the ground and act as a living mulch and retain moisture in the soil.

I planted out my corn and bean seedlings, and planted pumpkin seeds back in late November. It is now a bit of a jungle.

The beans are climbing well

In fact, some too well as they are climbing well above the height of the corn. Beans are clearly the overachieving sister. But there are beans coming along nicely, so I'm happy.

The pumpkins (in my case) are growing, but no baby pumpkins are appearing as yet.

I'm not sure that they really get enough sunlight in this system to crop well. But as I'm not a massive pumpkin fan this doesn't phase me. I do think that I have been watering these less than the corn I grew on its own last year. But bear in mind that is based on completely unreliable memory and doesn't take into account the different climatic conditions from year to year. So maybe the pumpkins have done their jobs.

But either way the corn has grown and produced delicious cobs.

I tell when they are ready by the mostly brown silks.

To be sure I then check to see if there are well formed kernels.

To be extra sure I then break a kernel with my thumbnail and look for a milky ooze, which tells me the cobs are ready.

If the ooze is clear then they need another day or two.

Then I race the cobs to the kitchen into pan of already boiling water.

Off we go...


  1. Maybe I'll try the 3 sisters method next year. I attempted baby corn again this year with mixed success. I'm not sure baby corn is worth growing unless you grow loads of it. How much corn did you grow?

    1. I've never (intentionally) grown baby corn, but inevitably I pick some very baby under-developed cobs and use them as baby corn. I reckon there would be around 15 corn plants in that area. Most of them have 2-3 cobs coming along. But I have another bed in the veggie patch with another 12 plants or so which I hope will extend the harvest when these are done.

  2. Yes! Wonderful. I have only ever tried a two sisters thingy before, but I had a bad corn year that year, and the beans by far were the over achievers. I will certainly try again and try a three sister relationship next time. Well done, I bet that corn was heavenly!

    1. It was delicious! I'll be trying it again, but I'll follow Gavin's advice when he told me (after my first blog post on this) that he usually plants the beans out when the corn is about 30cms tall. I planted mine out at the same time and the beans definitely outgrew the corn early on.

  3. Your three sisters garden looks amazing! I am trying one this summer and hope that it will turn out to be as glorious as yours.

    1. Cheers! It was a good thing to try, and I haven't yet decided if I'm going to retry it in my corn bed this year. Mostly just because I've been focussing on other plants and hadn't gottend around to planning it. The corn is in, so now I would just need to get some climbing beans and more the pumpkin/cucumbers going. Could be done... thanks for motivating me! Good luck with yours!