Three Sisters: Agriculture Method

Three Sisters: Agriculture Method

Three sister agriculture method is a form of  traditional agriculture followed in North America dated back since 5,000 years. It is an intercropping system where three crops – Maize, Beans and Squash are grown together forming an classic form of mixed cropping.    

Growing the Three Sisters

“Three sisters” are maize (Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and squash (Cucurbita spp.) seeds are sown together in a single hole.

Maize grows first, providing a stalk for the beans, which reach upward for access to the sun. Finally squash plant grows low to the ground, shaded by the bean and corn, and keeping the weeds from affecting the other two plants. 

Importance of Three Sisters

Growing maize (tall grass), beans (a nitrogen-fixing legume) and squash (low-lying creeper plant) together was a stroke of environmental genius, the microclimate produced by a combination of these three sisters favor the survival of the plants.

Maize is known for its notorious for sucking the nitrogen out of the soil; while beans supply replacement mineral nitrogen back into the soil.

Maize is quickly grown straight and tall; Bean using the stalks as structural support, grows and gain greater access to sunlight and bring more atmospheric nitrogen into soil and make it available to maize. 

Maize and Beans together provides the shade, humid type microclimate most suitable for squash growth; which in turn suppresses soil erosion and weed growth. 

Nutritional Benefit of Three Sisters

  • Maize – Carbohydrates and few amino acids
  • Beans – Amino acids, dietary fiber, Vit B2 and B6, Zn, Fe, Mn, I, K and P. 
  • Squash – Vitamin A.

Three Sisters together forms a great healthy foodstuff. 


Cardoso EJBN, Nogueira MA, and Ferraz SMG. 2007. Biological N2 fixation and mineral N in common bean–maize intercropping or sole cropping in southeastern Brazil. Experimental Agriculture 43(03):319-330.

Hart JP. 2008. Evolving the Three Sisters: The changing histories of maize, bean, and squash in New York and the greater northeast. In: Hart JP, editor. Current Northeast Paleoethnobotany II. Albany, New York: The University of the State of New York. p 87-99.

Landon AJ. 2008. The “How” of the Three Sisters: The origins of agriculture in Mesoamerica and the human niche. Nebraska Anthropologist 40:110-124.

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