How Plants Saved the Pilgrims

I'm sure some of you have already gone out to start Christmas shopping, but we're going to hang out on Thanksgiving for just a few more minutes. Our recent fun with the garden projects at IPS schools has us inspired about plants and food, so today we're going to connect Thanksgiving and plants by talking about the Three Sisters.

Maize, beans, and squash Images from: commons.wikimedia.org.

Maize, beans, and squash
Images from: commons.wikimedia.org.

Before it was a delicious restaurant in Broad Ripple, Three Sisters referred to a specific kind of companion planting practiced by the Native Americans. Companion planting is a type of garden organization where you put plants of different species next to each other to their mutual benefit instead of keeping all the plants separated. In a Three Sisters planting, corn kernels, beans, and squash seeds are all planted together in a little mound. The corn stalks provide a structure for the beans to climb on. The beans' roots naturally enrich the soil with nitrogen. The squash vine will shade the ground to reduce weeds, and its tough, hairy leaves and vines will help keep pests from feeding on the vegetable trio.

Not only did these three vegetables help one another grow, they also provided a full meal for those who planted them. The corn provides starch, the beans provide protein, and the squash provides vitamins and natural sugars, plus nutritious oils in the seeds.

When the Pilgrims arrived in America, one of the ways in which the Native Americans helped them was by teaching them how to plant the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters would have been essential to the settlers' survival, and without that we never would have had the first Thanksgiving we all learn about in elementary school.

So if you're looking for some inspiration on what to plant in your vegetable garden, consider giving this traditional, scientifically supported planting method a try. While we may be tempted to think of Native American cultures as primitive, this kind of agricultural expertise was learned through thousands of years of thoughtful trial and error - and remember that they had to domesticate these plants first! The Three Sisters may be the most famous kind of companion planting, but it's not the only one. Check out this link to learn about more options. Enjoy the start of your holiday season!


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