3 sisters the original survival food

Have discussed it before but its been a number of years. What did people do prior to modern methods? The 3 sisters method is what native Americans did. Corn, beans, and squash were grown because natives knew what it took to stay alive here. Plant a Three Sisters Garden: Corn, Beans, and Squash | The Old Farmer's Almanac


Don’t think this guy knows anything about the 3 sisters but it’s a big coincidence if he doesn’t. Decided I would google 3 survival foods and see who knew about the 3 sisters. Don’t disagree with him either the choices make perfect sense. It’s interesting many figure out what the natives already knew.

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This story is an exaggeration which has been further glamorized by plant sellers and periodicals that cater to advertisers of natural or organic seeds and other products.

In reality the practice was not widespread. The Farmer’s Almanac is rarely a source of factual information.

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I know your not trying to be a contrarian but why do you say that? We always grew them Richard and we are part native American but not in the method or by the name given. When i say 3 sisters i mean plants not the literal method. Squash, beans, and corn make sense if your trying to stay alive. That’s not to say there is not some truth to what your saying about glamor and drama selling things. Your point might be they were not called 3 sisters or grown in the fashion presented Three Sisters Garden . Only tribes in the north east grew true 3 sisters plantings. The Cherokee did grow corn, Squash, and beans so when i say 3 sisters it’s more so that you understand what I mean. My family may or may not have got that passed all the way down I don’t know. What I do know is my grandfather grew corn , squash, and beans at times. He grew what they call native American garlic aka pioneer garlic. He didnt harvest bulbs he harvested seeds. He would harvest seeds by thr gallons. He used old quaker oat meal containers and would fill many with the garlic top seeds. Those are what you refer to as scapes.
The pioneers did grow and eat what the natives taught them to use. His gardens often looked very different like mine they might be growing lambs quarter, Poke, some dock, garlic etc. . For whatever reason I was taught that way but to the untrained observer they might say my garden looks more weedy than yours.


All 3 of those are high carb…

If the Indians only ate that… they would have died long before America was discovered of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, gut issues and their joints would be so inflamed… no way they could ride horses and spear or arrow buffalo.

My bet is they may have eaten a little of that high carb stuff in season… and mostly when nice fatty buffalo ribeye or liver was not available.


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All three of those crops are highly storable making them good as year round staples. An over abundance of calories combined with a sedentary lifestyle is not something people typically had to worry about in past generations.



The tongue was the delicacy in those days


if you’re eating lots of greens, dried fruit, dried meat and fish, and these are your carbs it’s a good diet. they stored everything so they’d have access to all of it year round.

some kind of squash and beans are the easiest things to grow. corn is harder but it’s native to the continent so that makes it worth the work.

also people who were farming, maintaining forests and herds, often traveling by season, building all their own homes and storage, were very busy often. most of the year in fact very physically active. only the winter was time to hunker down.

you’d be very healthy living that way.
@clarkinks tongue is still a delicacy


@TNHunter is right that they ate much more meat than we do. They ate the vegetables and pemmican as well. Wild onions was eaten in very high quantities in the spring. Their corn, squash, and beans were not ours they were not gmo or hybrid.

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In other words, you’re associating the Farmer’s Almanac with climate change publications.

They were also not likely to be over-processed and then over-cooked.
Still, I’m imagining a whole trive of natives lounging with their feet draped over a log watching a dramatic interpetation while munching on huge bowls of larded popcorn, battered and fried squash, and bean dip with pupusas. Sounds like the life to me, at least until the herd of caribou thunders through.
I’ve got a spot between several small apple trees I do not want to have to mow that I’m thinking about setting three sisters up in. I should have done already, but life keeps insisting on being in the way. Well, that and procrastination.


The original chemical processing of corn, nixtamalization, originated with the boiling of the corn kernels in lime or ash water to soften the husks, release its aroma and make the b6 available. This processing enhances the nutritional value and the kernel grinds easier.

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The delicacy was the “sweetfat” around the intestines and liver. Look it up and you will find out why. How do I know? Ask me sometime about my Cherokee ancestors, also about the beans my grandmother grew which were straight up sourced from her Cherokee grandmother.

Three sisters is a very inefficient way to grow corn. It is not the way many Amerindian tribes grew their corn as shown by the fields of corn grown by the 5 tribes of the Iroquois. It was used by some tribes, but only if they had corn, beans, and squash adapted to the growing method.

Corn was grown because it produces a large amount of high calorie starch. It needs nitrogen so beans were grown because they contribute some N to the corn. Squash was grown both as a food and because the squash plants are a serious deterrent to raccoons.

What varieties are adapted to this growing method?

Cherokee Squaw corn is a soft dent corn with plants about 8 to 9 feet tall that is very sturdy and can hold up the weight of the beans.

Cornfield beans (Sandhill carries Brown Cornfield) are selected specifically for growing in this arrangement.

Squash is location dependent, here in the southeast, I would grow any of the storage butternut types such as Seminole, Mrs. Amerson, or Sweet Red. Other areas could grow any of the vining type storage squash (not large pumpkins). Long Pie has worked particularly well for me (Fedco Seed).

How do you plant a “3 sisters” garden?

Start by planting the corn on a 4ft by 4ft grid. Make hills about 6 inches elevated above the surrounding soil. Put 6 to 8 corn seed in each hill. Let the corn grow until it is just over a foot tall and thin the corn plants to 3 or 4 per hill. Thinning MUST be done or most of the corn plants will produce small ears. When it is thinned, plant 3 squash seed beside each 9th corn hill. As an example, if there are 3 rows of corn on 4X4 spacing, each 3rd hill in the middle row would get 3 squash seed. At the same time, plant 2 or 3 bean seed beside each hill of corn EXCEPT the hill that has squash. Don’t plant extra bean seed or the corn will be overwhelmed.

So what happens as it grows? The squash sprawls and shades the ground helping prevent raccoon depredations. The beans grow and produce nitrogen which feeds the corn and to some extent the squash just as it is needed most. The corn grows and dries down under the beans while the beans continue to be harvested up to frost.


Native American agriculture was considerable prior to colonization!

This article has some more info and expands to seven sisters: The Seven Sisters of Abenaki Indigenous Agriculture — Vermont Garden Network



Does your family grow the red and white beans that grew together but would not grow separated. Cherokee are very interesting my great uncle was tribal counsel I’m told in Oklahoma. Three sisters for me is just a term but that is not a method we use. We have grown beans up corn stalks but I like my squash seperate. Look closely you will see the corn plant amongst the squash or melons Clarkinks older fruit and vegetable growing Projects in Kansas

These are not Cherokee or native methods necessarily but those methods are mixed in our farming. This garden was grown by me before i was ill and its typical of the way i learned. My grandpa made his soil out of leaves. We mulched with whatever we had but we don’t always mulch.

Many discuss methods of farming but I’m showing you all my actual methods not passed down in stories or rumors but how i did it with photos. Farming is not easy it is hard work and these photos show that. My grandpa used leaves. My friends used weeds to mulch with. Hopefully the actual method gives you an idea what my garden really looks like. Many families may have better methods this is ours. When I look at most gardens they look bare to me. People use much more exposed soil than we do. We will even mow between rows to hold soil so as not to lose it to erosion. There are many methods my family uses from everyone we have met. Are some methods above inspired by Cherokee that is something you must decide by looking.


I think it’s well documented that Native Americans ate a lot of maize. It was domesticated here, after all. And its use spread from Mexico across the Americas. I think there’s good evidence of widespread cultivation in the Yucatan and in New England. I take your point that animal protein may have been preferred, but before European diseases decimated Native American populations, there probably wasn’t enough buffalo (or deer, etc) to meet needs. And the buffalo weren’t so easy to kill before the Spanish introduced horses. Even after horses, tribes that raised corn (e.g., Pawnee) tended to dominate tribes that relied on buffalo (e.g., Sioux) because agriculture supported faster population growth.

All that said, my understanding is that while neither corn nor beans provides a complete mix of amino acids, the two in combination are a decent substitute for meat. I’m not shilling for seed-sellers. I’m content just to look at the amino acid content.


Clark, the squash should be interplanted with the corn to get the benefit of shading the ground (holds in moisture) and suppressing raccoon depredation. If properly used, the squash does the same thing as a mulch on the ground. The squash in your pictures looks like short vine types similar to crookneck. The squash grown with three sisters are long vine winter storage types.

One of those little known tales from the 1830’s is that a few Cherokee hid out in Little River Canyon during the forced removal to Oklahoma. Several of the local white families were sympathetic and gradually helped them integrate eventually inter-marrying. One such family was named Partridge. I have very little information about them other than that there were 26 children born to 2 wives. One of them was my great great grandmother. I did not know her, but I grew up visiting her daughter, my great grandmother Mae Lassiter.

Amino acids in corn are a problem, particularly for Methionine and Lysine. Corn is not a balanced source of nutrients at all! Beans combined with corn are a pretty good diet, but qualify that this is talking about dry beans (after cooking to make them digestible), not snap beans. I got an inbred maize line from ARS-Grin several years ago and crossed it with Cherokee Squaw to produce an open pollinated corn that has increased Methionine and Lysine. It makes a very good chicken feed, especially for free range birds. It does not require supplemental protein to sustain egg laying and chicken growth. Sandhill carries it as “chicken” corn.



There are both bush and Vine type squash. Those pumpkin vines and butternut get 25+ feet. There are many similar stories all of which are likely accurate with the Cherokee. They adopted many people in their tribe as well. My family had both stories some who didn’t go to the reservation and some who did go on the trail of tears death March.

The reality is that the agrarian revolution (the Neolithic, not the British one) was a mix bag. It happened in different parts of the planet with different crops that allowed for a population explosion at a huge cost to nutritional quality. What used to be a huge variety of food sources became much limited and the results can be seen in the remains of individuals from before and after said revolution. Take maize for example; it was not only the domestication but processing that unlocked its caloric potential. On the other hand maize lacks a number of amino acids so the same diet that allowed them to hold larger populations also led to worsening nutrition and health.

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They did not mean for corn to be eaten like it is. Acorns were a big deal. Noone in my family ate Buffalo as far as I know not that they wouldn’t but people in my family ate deer. In my lifetime my family ate cows and pigs mostly and little wild meats. They could tell you people did eat buffalo. Some things are location specific it’s a matter of what’s available. Be careful to assume you know what every family did it’s like saying if someone saw you garden they saw me garden. Natives were different but had things in common. In my family I know my grandma could name every plant she saw. Most natives cannot name 5%. My grandma was exceptional at that. You cannot judge my family by her abilities we cannot do what she did. Do we know many wild plants yes more than most. She ate them all that she could so when she made you greens you didn’t even know what they were there might be 10+ types. There are certain types harvested at certain times. She was a master of the seasons. She would tell me go pick gooseberries and watch out for copperhead. The gooseberries were ripe and copperhead were there. She knew the snakes prey were eating falling gooseberries. When I was small I said grandma we eat dock she said yes many types of dock. This does not say 1% of what you should know but who will teach you now? Many tell me things but who actually knows? Never have i met someone like my grandma before or after with her knowledge and its mostly lost and mine will be mostly lost What's a Dock Plant and Is It Edible? . To say natives grew something one way or another only is not reasonable but in general we knew some of what they did. There are many naive people about this subject without the experience. Her family grew up literally living on the land and as was mentioned meat was a big part of it. My grandma picked cotton as a small girl with her brother. Her family members my mother said put great value on meat and when they were paid it was what was bought. The best types of cuts were something they cared about. My uncle who recently passed away grew my grandfathers grandmother’s plums. A man came into my work once and look shocked and came up shook my hand at the elbow like Cherokee do. He said how are you my brother ? I explained he had me mixed up. He said no I don’t you look just like your relatives on the reservation in Oklahoma. Being very white i smiled at this. The man was at least half African American so i went to my mother’s after work and asked her. She said yes the Cherokee adopted his ancestors and many other people. The things he told me are things you cannot read in a book right down to the handshake which is more of an arm shake. There are things like this I didn’t know. My mother has explained what she could. Sometimes I meet someone and they tell me more about my family. Nearly everyone has relation that is native American we are in America. To bad so much knowledge was lost. One of my great grandparents lived in a sod home in Kansas. Im not going to say i know why they were there. There is a great deal I don’t have answers for.