This month I am doing three vegetables - Corn, Beans and Squash - also known as "Three Sisters".
Three Sisters Planting
The term "Three Sisters" emerged from Iroquois creation myth. When Native people speak of the "three sisters" they are referring to corn, beans and squash.
It was said that the earth began when "Sky Women" who lived in the upper world peered through a hole in the sky and fell through to an endless sea. The animals saw her coming, so they took the soil from the bottom of the sea and spread it onto the back of a giant turtle to provide a safe place for her to land. This "Turtle Island" is now what we call North America.
Sky woman had become pregnant before she fell. When she landed, she gave birth to a daughter. When the daughter grew into a young woman, she also became pregnant (by the West wind). She died while giving birth to twin boys. Sky Women buried her daughter in the "new earth". From her grave grew three sacred plants - corn, beans and squash. These plants provided food for her sons, and later, for all of humanity. These special gifts ensured the survival of the Iroquois people.
Legends vary from tribe to tribe. Another version of "Three Sisters" originated when a woman of medicine who could no longer stand the fighting amongst her three daughters asked the Creator to help her find a way to get them to stop fighting. That night she had a dream, and each sister was a different seed. In her dream, she planted them in one mound in just the way they would have lived at home and told them that in order to grow and thrive they would need to be different but dependent upon each other. From that day on, Native people have planted the three crops together - Three Sisters helping and loving each other.
Another legend says that three sister lived together in a field. These sisters were quite different in their height and how they carried themselves. The little sister was so round that she could only crawl at first. The second sister wore a bright sunshine yellow dress and would spent many hours sitting in the sun reading by herself. The third was the eldest sister who always stood very straight and tall above the other sisters, looking for danger and warning her sisters. They loved each other dearly, and they always stayed together. This made them very strong.
Corn, beans and squash have a unique symbiotic relationship in the garden. Corn offers a structure for the beans to climb. The beans, in turn, fix nitrogen in the soil to help replenish the soil with nutrients. The large leaves of squash vines provide living mulch that conserves water and provides weed control.
Corn is considered the most important of all Native American crops. It was introduced to the North American tribes in 600 A.D. to 1450A.D. by an intricate series of trade networks. In addition to its nutritional values, all Native American tribes that grew corn considered it a sacred and spiritually valuable plant. To many tribes it is the basis of religion and the symbol of fertility and beneficence. "Seed of seeds," "Sacred Mother," "Blessed Daughter" and "Giver of Life" is other sayings by which the sacred corn food is addressed. Choosing the right varieties of corn is essential to the success of a "Three Sisters" garden. The tall, sturdy heirloom varieties work best because they are most capable of supporting the beans.
Beans provide a high-quality protein food source that combines well nutritionally with corn. They also play a valuable role in the Three Sisters Garden. The Scarlet Runner variety is a popular heirloom pole bean that is famous for its large clusters
of bright red flowers and is a great choice for the Three Sisters Garden.
In ancient times beans were often associated with men and women of strength. They were considered to be the standard fare of consumption in activities requiring great feats of strength and vigour.
Squash" comes from the Massachuset Indian word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw or uncooked." It was first gathered by indigenous people around 8000 B.C., but apparently only the seeds were eaten, because the fruits were unappealing.
You might think of squash as a vegetable but it is considered a fruit because it contains the seeds of the plant. There are two categories of squash - Summer and Winter. Summer squash have thin edible skins and soft seeds and are high in vitamins A, C and Niacin. They have a tender flesh and have high water content and are sweet and mild in flavour. Winter Squash despite its name is a warm weather crop that can be stored through the winter. Winter squash has a hard, thick skin and seeds and is also high in vitamins A and C, as well as iron and riboflavin.
Corn, beans and squash combine to create a nearly perfect meal loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. The corn and the beans make a complete protein, the squash supplied beta carotene, Omega 3's and Potassium. Whole communities could survive on these alone if game and other foods were scarce. They were also one of the first Companion Plantings, each contributing to the growth and well-being of each other.