Four Sisters

History credits the creation of the “three sisters” style of gardening to the Haudenosaunee (ho-de-no-shaw-nee) people of what is now New York. Corn, beans, and squash make excellent companion plants, complementing each other and meeting each others needs. Some tribes added the sunflower to the north side of their plots as a sentinel of sorts, to keep birds from eating their corn. Traditionally, each corn seed was planted with a fish head to provide extra nutrient for the growing plant. If fish heads are not readily available, fish scraps, wood ash, blood meal, or a one-inch layer of decomposed compost or manure may be used in their place.

FourSisters

Summer Squash

summer_squash
  • Plant seeds 3/4″ deep indoors or outdoors three weeks after last frost or when soil is 70 degrees F. This, along with the other squash and melons, will be the third seed planting.
  • Transplant three weeks after last frost, or when soil is 70 degrees F.
  • When picked frequently, plants will produce continuously until frost.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft. for bush varieties; two plants per sq. ft. for vining types growing on trellis.
  • Wait until one week after planting the beans before planting these.
  • Days to harvest: 30 to 40 from transplant, 40 to 50 from seed. Not frost-hardy.
  • Hint: Start under garden fabric (row covers) to protect from insects.

Beans

beans
  • Sow seeds 1″ deep directly in garden after all danger of frost. This will be the second seed to go into this design.
  • Spacing: four plants per sq. ft. for bush beans, six to eight plants per sq. ft. for pole beans
  • Rather than planting exactly like the above diagram shows, wait until the corn is about five inches tall. Then, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk.
  • Plant second crop of bush beans (if needed) two weeks after first planting.
  • Days to harvest: 50-80 from seed, depending on variety. Not frost-hardy.
  • Hint: Add a legume inoculant when planting to increase vigor and yield.

Corn

corn
  • Sow seeds 1″ deep directly in garden. This will be the first seed to go into this design, along with the sunflowers. Plant only when all danger of frost has passed (usually early May).
  • Spacing: Plant four seeds per sq. ft.; thin to two plants per sq. ft.
  • Plant after frost when soil reaches 60 degrees F.
  • Need to grow at least 12 to 18 plants of same variety to ensure good pollination.
  • Days to harvest: 65 to 75 from planting. Not frost-hardy.
  • Hints: Use garden fabric (row covers) early in spring to protect against frost and crows. Sunflowers should also draw away the birds.

Melons

melon
  • Sow 1/2″ deep in garden two to three weeks after last spring frost or indoors at time of last frost. This, along with the squashes, will be the third seed planting.
  • Transplant seedlings (if started indoors) when small and soil has reached 70 degrees F.
  • Spacing: one or two plants per sq. ft.
  • Wait until one week after planting the beans before planting these.
  • Days to harvest: 75 from transplant. One crop per season. Not frost-hardy.
  • Hint: Cover soil surface with plastic, or grow vines on trellis to keep melons off soil.

Winter Squash

squash
  • Plant seeds 3/4″ deep indoors or outdoors, three weeks after last frost, when soil is 70 degrees F. This, along with the other squash and melons, will be the third seed planting.
  • Transplant three weeks after last frost or when soil is 70 degrees F.
  • Spacing: one plant per sq. ft. Grow on trellis, or train to stay in the plot.
  • Wait until one week after planting the beans before planting these.
  • Days to harvest: 85 to 100 from planting seeds, depending on variety. Pick before first frost.
  • Hint: Prune growing tips to keep under control. Leave stems attached when harvesting.

Sunflowers

sunflower
  • Sow seeds 1″ deep after the danger of frost is past. This will be the first seed to go into this design, along with the corn.
  • Spacing: two plants per sq. ft. or six inches apart; can plant multiples and thin when six inches tall.
  • Tall species may require support, so it is a good idea to intersperse them with trellising beans as well. Rather than planting exactly like the above diagram shows, wait until the sunflowers are about five inches tall. Then, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. If the beans become too tall, and begin overtaking the flowers, they can be trimmed back.
  • To use for bouquets, in the early morning, cut the main stem at the time just before the bud opens (to encourage side blooms).
  • Days to harvest: up to 110 for seed harvest
  • Hint: Sunflowers are planted in the Four Sisters design to keep birds away from the corn. In this case, consider leaving the seeds for the birds.