Sweet Corn Lessons

Corn, climbing beans and squash: The Three Sisters

Corn, climbing beans and squash: The Three Sisters

I’ve been experimenting with growing sweet corn based on the American Indian method of planting corn, climbing beans and squash together (the “Three Sisters“). I think it worked but I’ll tweak it a little next year.


Problem 1: All the sweet corn ripened at the same time. Which is fine if you have a family of 12. I have a family of 2 and we’ve been eating corn most days but just can’t cram it down our gullets fast enough (especially when the garden is throwing out all the stops on so many vegetables at this time of year). What I’ll do next year: sow 3 rows and plant 1 row per week to allow a longer harvest period (hopefully).


Problem 2: The climbing beans are only moderately successful. I have several vines climbing my corn stalks but they are far from voracious in growth or in production. What I’ll do next year: sow the beans at the same time as the corn. This year I put the corn in the ground and waited until the stalks were a couple of inches high before planting my beans. I was afraid the beans would rip out the corn. I think if they’re sown at the same time the beans might get more sun and therefore grow faster and stronger. From what I’ve seen there’s virtually no chance a climbing bean is going to strangle or rip out a corn stalk.


Problem 3: This isn’t really a problem but my squash is coming on just as the corn is ending. This means the bed will be tied up for longer than I imagined. Also, the planned benefit of the squash keeping creatures out of the corn didn’t work since the squash is only now spreading (and yes, the bandicoot dug in the corn often). What I’ll do next year: as with the beans, I’ll put the squash in the ground earlier. I may even sow some seeds in pots and plant out developed squash at the same time I sow beans and corn. The squash is slow to spread so the corn should find its space well before any feared invasion by the squash.

Right now I’m harvesting some of the last corn and cutting down the stalks that have no beans on them. I can harvest a few beans with flowers still on the vines; signs of beans to come. The squash (zucchini and jap pumpkin) is a future prospect. I might get a few zucchini in a few weeks but really, it’s a mid-summer harvest. I’ll leave the bed for the beans and squash as long as they want it.

All-in-all I’m happy with this bed, with the companion planting and with trying it again (with a few tweaks) next spring.


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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2 Responses to Sweet Corn Lessons

  1. I read in our newspaper that Australia is having a heat wave – how are you coping?

    • Unbelievably, Sydney is in a small pocket that is missing the worst of the heat wave. Some parts of the country have had temps over 40 every day this year. On the west coast it started around Christmas. It looks like we’ll hit 37 in Sydney on Tuesday but only for a day then the temp drops 10 degrees. I’ve lived through heat waves in the 40s a couple of times in my life so I can really empathise with my countrymen – it’s miserable! And, of course, the fires that come with these heat waves (many lit by arsons) are just horrible. I’m counting my blessings for 2013 already.

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