image of Three Sisters

Corn, beans and squash are referred to as the sustainers of life.

- Oneida -

Companion Planting

The Genius of Haudenosaunee Agriculture

Known as the "sustainers of life," the Haudenosaunee consider corn, beans and squash to be special gifts from the Creator.

The well-being of each crop is believed to be protected by one of the Three Sister Spirits. Many a legend has been woven around the Three Sisters – sisters who would never be separated, and who should be planted together, eaten together and celebrated together.

Modern-day agriculturists know it as the genius of the Indians, who interplanted pole beans and squash with corn, using the strength of the sturdy corn stalks to support the twining beans and the spreading squash vines to trap moisture for the growing crop.

Research has revealed additional benefits of this “companion planting.” The bacterial colonies on the bean roots capture nitrogen from the air, some of which is released into the soil to satisfy the high nitrogen needs of the corn. Beans also help keep pests away from the plants. Meanwhile, squash discourages weed growth, so the three plants don’t have to compete with weeds for nutrients. And, as the corn stalk grows, it provides support for the beans.

The vegetables are known as the sustainers of life because they provide essential nutrients. Beans are a good source of calcium, iron, sodium, potassium and protein. Squash is low in fat and high in dietary fiber. Corn provides vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium, as well as carbohydrates for energy.

Corn has always been a staple of the traditional Haudenosaunee diet because it can be dried and stored for long periods and prepared in a variety of ways. Ancient Oneidas used the white corn to make corn soup, bread and mush; corn harvested and dried in the fall would supplement dried meat, nuts and rice to see the Oneidas through the harsh winters.

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