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Three Sisters (agriculture) – Wikipedia

Three Sisters (agriculture) – Wikipedia

2023-04-10 22:39:42

Agricultural strategy of Indigenous folks within the Americas

Illustration of cornstalk on which bean plants are climbing, surrounded at the base with leaves and fruit of a pumpkin vine

The Three Sisters are the three most important agricultural crops of assorted Indigenous peoples of North America: squash, maize (“corn”), and climbing beans (usually tepary beans or common beans).
In a way often called companion planting, the maize and beans are sometimes planted collectively in mounds fashioned by hilling soil across the base of the crops annually; squash is usually planted between the mounds. The cornstalk serves as a trellis for climbing beans, the beans repair nitrogen of their root nodules and stabilize the maize in excessive winds, and the huge leaves of the squash plant shade the bottom, conserving the soil moist and serving to stop the institution of weeds.

Indigenous peoples all through North America cultivated totally different forms of the Three Sisters, tailored to various native environments.
The person crops and their use in polyculture originated in Mesoamerica; the place squash was domesticated first, adopted by maize after which beans, over a interval of 5,000–6,500 years.
European data from the sixteenth century describe extremely productive Indigenous agriculture primarily based on cultivation of the Three Sisters all through what are actually the Japanese United States and Canada, the place the crops have been used for each meals and commerce.
Geographer Carl O. Sauer described the Three Sisters as “a symbiotic plant complicated of North and Central America with out an equal elsewhere”.

Cultivation strategies[edit]

2009 US Sacagawea dollar coin depicting a woman in a buckskin tunic planting seeds among cornstalks and squash plants

The Three Sisters planting methodology is featured on the reverse of the 2009 US Sacagawea dollar.[1]

Agricultural historical past within the Americas took a unique path from the Old World because the Americas lacked large-seeded, simply domesticated grains (equivalent to wheat and barley) and enormous domesticated animals that could possibly be used for agricultural labor. On the time of first contact between the Europeans and the People, Carlos Sempat Assadourian writes that Europeans practiced “in depth agriculture, primarily based on the plough and draught animals” whereas the Indigenous peoples of the Americas practiced “intensive agriculture, primarily based on human labour”.[2]

In Indigenous American companion planting, maize (Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus and Vicia[3] spp.), and squash (Cucurbita pepo) are planted shut collectively. The maize and beans are sometimes planted collectively in mounds fashioned by hilling soil across the base of the crops annually; squash is usually planted between the mounds.[4]
Within the northeastern U.S., this observe will increase soil temperature within the mound and improves drainage, each of which profit maize planted in spring.[4]
Every mound is about 30 cm (12 in) excessive and 50 cm (20 in) huge, and several other maize seeds are planted shut collectively within the middle of every mound; in elements of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried within the mound with the maize seeds, to behave as extra fertilizer the place the soil is poor.[citation needed]
In Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) farming, the fields weren’t tilled, enhancing soil fertility and the sustainability of the cropping system by limiting soil erosion and oxidation of soil organic matter.[5]

The three crops profit by being grown collectively.[4][3]
The cornstalk serves as a trellis for the beans to climb, the beans fix nitrogen within the soil, and their twining vines stabilize the maize in excessive winds, and the huge leaves of the squash plant shade the bottom, conserving the soil moist and serving to stop the institution of weeds.[6][7]
The prickly hairs of some squash varieties additionally deter pests, equivalent to deer and raccoons.[7]

Though this synergy had been historically reputed amongst American cultures, scientific affirmation has arrived solely far more not too long ago.[3]
A lot of this analysis was performed in the Soviet Union within the early Seventies and printed in a number of volumes of Biochemical and Physiological Bases for Plant Interactions in Phytocenosis edited by Andrey Mikhailovich Grodzinsky [uk; ru].[3] Dzubenko & Petrenko 1971, Lykhvar & Nazarova 1970 and Pronin et al. 1970 discover a huge variety of leguminous crops enhance the expansion and yield of maize, whereas Gulyaev et al. 1970 choose later maturing traces of beans to provide the converse impact, growing even additional the yield acquire of beans when planted with maize.[3]
Pronin et al. 1972 discover elevated productiveness and root exudate in each crops when combining Vicia faba with maize, and much more so in soils with preexisting excessive nitrogen fixing microorganism exercise.[3]

Hopi Blue Corn, Pole Beans, and Sugar Pumpkins at 6000'

Three Sisters mound planting in Arizona

Indigenous peoples all through North America cultivated totally different forms of the Three Sisters, tailored to various native environments.[8]
The milpas of Mesoamerica are farms or gardens that make use of companion planting on a bigger scale.[9]
The Ancestral Puebloans adopted this backyard design within the drier deserts and xeric shrublands surroundings. The Tewa and different peoples of the North American Southwest usually included a “fourth Sister”, Rocky Mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata), which attracts bees to assist pollinate the beans and squash.[10][better source needed]
The Three Sisters crop mannequin was extensively utilized by various First Nations within the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Lowlands area.[11]


European data from the sixteenth century describe extremely productive Indigenous agriculture primarily based on cultivation of the Three Sisters all through what are actually the Eastern United States and Canada, from Florida to Ontario.[5]
Geographer Carl O. Sauer described the Three Sisters as “a symbiotic plant complicated of North and Central America with out an equal elsewhere”.[12]
Agronomist Jane Mt. Pleasant writes that the Three Sisters mound system “enhances the soil bodily and biochemical surroundings, minimizes soil erosion, improves soil tilth, manages plant inhabitants and spacing, supplies for plant vitamins in acceptable portions, and on the time wanted, and controls weeds”.[4]
After a number of thousand years of selective breeding, the hemisphere’s most necessary crop, maize, was extra productive than Outdated World grain crops. Maize produced two and one-half occasions extra calories per acre than wheat and barley.[13]

Nutritionally, maize, beans, and squash comprise all 9 essential amino acids,[5] in addition to complicated carbohydrates and important fatty acids.[citation needed]
The protein from maize is additional enhanced by protein contributions from beans and pumpkin seeds, whereas pumpkin flesh supplies giant quantities of vitamin A; with the Three Sisters, farmers harvest about the identical quantity of vitality as from maize monoculture, however get extra protein yield from the inter-planted bean and pumpkin.
Mt. Nice writes that this largely explains the worth of the Three Sisters over monoculture cropping, because the system yields giant quantities of vitality, and on the identical time will increase protein yields; this polyculture cropping system yielded extra meals and supported extra folks per hectare in comparison with monocultures of the person crops or mixtures of monocultures.[5]


Students Mt. Nice and Burt reproduced Iroquoian strategies of cultivation with Iroquoian forms of maize at a number of areas in New York. They reported yields of twenty-two to 76 bushels of maize (550 to 1,930 kg) per acre. Soil fertility and climate have been the principle determinants of yield.[14] Mt. Nice additionally questioned the standard knowledge that the Iroquois practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, abandoning fields when the soil was depleted of vitamins after a number of years of farming, however as an alternative claimed that Iroquoian no-till farming strategies preserved soil fertility.[15] In an identical experiment to breed Native American agricultural practices in Minnesota, Munson-Scullin and Scullin reported maize yields of 40 bushels (1,100 kg) within the first 12 months a area was cultivated declining to 30 bushels (820 kg) the second 12 months, and 25 bushels (550 kg) the third 12 months.[16] (For comparative functions, common yield of maize per acre in New York in 2021 utilizing trendy strategies and rising hybrid maize was 167 bushels per acre.[17])

Different students have estimated decrease common yields of maize. Hart and Feranec estimated the yield of Huron agriculture at 8 to 22 bushels (200 to 560 kg) per acre, the upper yields coming from newly-cultivated land. The Huron lived in Ontario close to the northern restrict of the place agriculture was possible and had much less fertile soils than many different areas. However, they produced surpluses for buying and selling with close by non-agricultural peoples.[18] Bruce Set off estimates that the Hurons required .4 acres (0.16 ha) to .8 acres (0.32 ha) of land below cultivation per capita for his or her subsistence with extra cultivated land required for commerce.[19] Sissel Schroeder estimates that the common yield of Native American farms within the nineteenth century was 18.9 bushels per acre (480 kg), however opines that pre-historic yields might need been as little as 10 bushels per acre (255 kg).[20]

See Also

Because the Iroquois and different Native People didn’t plow their land, Mt. Nice and Burt concluded that their lands retained extra natural matter and thus have been increased in yields of maize than early Euro-American farms in North America.

Society and tradition[edit]

Maize, beans, and squash, whether or not grown individually or collectively, have a really lengthy historical past within the Americas.[5]
The method to develop this agricultural information came about over 5,000–6,500 years. Squash was domesticated first, with maize second and beans third.[22][23]
Squash was first domesticated 8,000–10,000 years in the past.[24][25]

Cahokian, Mississippian and Muscogee tradition[edit]

Corn, squash and beans have been planted ca. 800 AD within the largest Native American metropolis north of the Rio Grande often called Cahokia, within the current US state of Illinois, throughout the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri.
The Three Sisters crops have been accountable for the excess meals that created an expanded inhabitants all through the prolonged Mississippi River System, creating the Mississippian and Muscogee cultures that flourished from ca. 800 AD to ca. 1600, when bodily contact with Spanish explorers introduced Eurasian ailments, loss of life, and cultural collapse.

Haudenosaunee tradition[edit]

Sign with raised letters reading, "Grain Pits. These pits are remains of community storage cellars for corn, beans and squash. Used by the Iroquois Indians. State Education Department 1935"

Within the Handbook of North American Indians, the Three Sisters are referred to as the “basis of (Iroquois) subsistence”, permitting the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois to develop the establishments of sedentary life.[26]
The Three Sisters seem prominently in Haudenosaunee oral traditions and ceremonies, such because the creation story and the thanksgiving address.[4]
Researchers within the early twentieth century described greater than a dozen forms of maize and comparable numbers of bean varieties, in addition to many forms of squash, equivalent to pumpkin and winter squash, grown in Haudenosaunee communities. The primary tutorial description of the Three Sisters cropping system in 1910 reported that the Iroquois most popular to plant the three crops collectively, because it took much less effort and time than planting them individually, and since they believed the crops have been “guarded by three inseparable spirits and wouldn’t thrive aside”.[5]

Among the many Haudenosaunee, girls have been accountable for cultivation and distribution of the three crops, which raised their social standing. Male roles historically included prolonged intervals of journey, equivalent to for looking expeditions, diplomatic missions, or army raids. Males took half within the preliminary preparation for the planting of the Three Sisters by clearing the planting floor, after which teams of associated girls, working communally, carried out the planting, weeding, and harvesting.[27]
Primarily based on archaeological findings, paleobotanist John Hart concludes that the Haudenosaunee started rising the three crops as a polyculture someday after 700 BP.[5]
The Haudenosaunee incessantly traded their crops, so the necessity for every crop may differ considerably from 12 months to 12 months. Jane Mt. Nice surmises that the Haudenosaunee might have usually inter-planted the three crops, however they may even have planted monocultures of the person crops to fulfill particular wants.[5]

Maya tradition[edit]

The Maya weight-reduction plan centered on three domesticated staple crops: maize, squash, and beans (usually Phaseolus vulgaris).
Among the many three, maize was the central part of the weight-reduction plan of the traditional Maya and figured prominently in Maya mythology and ideology. Archaeological proof means that Chapalote-Nal-Tel was the dominant maize species, although it’s seemingly others have been being exploited additionally.[28]
Maize was used and eaten in a wide range of methods, however was at all times nixtamalized.

See additionally[edit]


  1. ^ “2009 Native American $1 Coin”. United States Mint. n.d. Retrieved April 5, 2023.
  2. ^ Sempat Assadourian, Carlos (1992). “The Colonial Financial system: The Switch of the European System of Manufacturing to New Spain and Peru”. Journal of Latin American Research. 24 (Quincentenary Complement): 62. ISSN 0022-216X. JSTOR 156945.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Putnam, A. R.; Duke, W. B. (1978). “Allelopathy in Agroecosystems”. Annual Review of Phytopathology. Annual Reviews. 16 (1): 431–451. doi:10.1146/ ISSN 0066-4286.
  4. ^ a b c d e Mt. Nice, Jane (2006). “The science behind the Three Sisters mound system: An agronomic evaluation of an indigenous agricultural system within the northeast”. In Staller, John E.; Tykot, Robert H.; Benz, Bruce F. (eds.). Histories of Maize: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Prehistory, Linguistics, Biogeography, Domestication, and Evolution of Maize. Amsterdam: Tutorial Press. pp. 529–537. ISBN 978-0-1236-9364-8.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Mt. Nice, Jane (2016). “Food Yields and Nutrient Analyses of the Three Sisters: A Haudenosaunee Cropping System”. Ethnobiology Letters. 7 (1): 87–98. doi:10.14237/ebl.7.1.2016.721. ISSN 2159-8126. JSTOR 26423653.
  6. ^ Younger, Kim J. (2007). Hopkins, William G. (ed.). Ethnobotany. The Inexperienced World. New York: Infobase Publishing. pp. 57–58. ISBN 978-1-4381-0694-6.
  7. ^ a b Hill, Christina Gish (November 20, 2020). “Returning the ‘three sisters’ – corn, beans and squash – to Native American farms nourishes people, land and cultures”. The Dialog. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  8. ^ Sauer, Carl O. (1969). Agricultural origins and dispersals: the domestication of animals and foodstuffs (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press. pp. 64–66. OCLC 3917.
  9. ^ Mann, Charles (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Classic Books. pp. 220–221. ISBN 978-1-4000-3205-1.
  10. ^ Hemenway, Toby (2000). Gaia’s Backyard: A Information to Dwelling-Scale Permaculture. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Inexperienced Publishing. p. 149. ISBN 978-1-890132-52-1.
  11. ^ “The Three Sisters: Optimizing the value and food potential of an ancestral indigenous crop system”. Ottawa: Agriculture and Agri-Meals Canada. August 6, 2021. Retrieved October 14, 2022.
  12. ^ Sauer, Carl O. (1952). Agricultural origins and dispersals (1st ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press. p. 64. OCLC 1086141375.
  13. ^ Ensminger, Audrey H.; Ensminger, M. E.; Konlande, James E.; Robson, John R. Ok. (1994). Meals & Vitamin Encyclopedia (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press. p. 1104. ISBN 0-8493-8980-1.
  14. ^ Mt. Nice, Jane; Burt, Robert F. (2010). “Estimating Productivity of Traditional Iroquoian Cropping Systems from Field Experiments and Historical Literature”. Journal of Ethnobiology. 30 (1): 54. doi:10.2993/0278-0771-30.1.52. S2CID 85696505. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  15. ^ Mt. Nice, Jane (2011). “The Paradox of Plows and Productivity”. Agricultural Historical past. 85 (4): 470. doi:10.3098/ah.2011.85.4.460. JSTOR 10.3098/ah.2011.85.4.460. PMID 22180940. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  16. ^ Munson-Scullin, Wendy; Scullin, Michael (2005). “Potential Productivity of Midwestern Native American Gardens”. Plains Anthropologist. 50 (193): 9, 15. doi:10.1179/pan.2005.004. JSTOR 25670789. S2CID 163713333. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  17. ^ “News Release, January 12, 2022” (PDF). Nationwide Agricultural Statistical Service. U.S. Division of Agriculture. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  18. ^ Hart, John P.; Feranec, Robert S. (April 8, 2020). “Using Maize values to assess soil fertility in fifteenth and sixteenth and Iroquoian agricultural fields”. PLOS ONE. 15 (4): e0230952. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0230952. PMC 7141618. PMID 32267852.
  19. ^ Set off, Bruce Graham (1963). “Settlement as an Aspect of Iroquoian Adaptation at the Time of Conquest”. American Anthropologist. 65 (1): 90–93. doi:10.1525/aa.1963.65.1.02a00070. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  20. ^ Schroeder, Sissel (1999). “Maize Productivity in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains of North America”. American Antiquity. 64 (2): 499–516. doi:10.2307/2694148. JSTOR 2694148. S2CID 164003793. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  21. ^ Landon, Amanda J. (2008). “The ‘How’ of the Three Sisters: The Origins of Agriculture in Mesoamerica and the Human Niche”. Nebraska Anthropologist. 23: 110–124. ISSN 1555-4937.
  22. ^ Bushnell, G. H. S. (1976). “The Beginning and Growth of Agriculture in Mexico”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. London: Royal Society of London. 275 (936): 117–120. Bibcode:1976RSPTB.275..117B. doi:10.1098/rstb.1976.0074.
  23. ^ Smith, Bruce D. (Might 1997). “The Initial Domestication of Cucurbita pepo in the Americas 10,000 Years Ago”. Science. Washington, DC: American Affiliation for the Development of Science. 276 (5314): 932–934. doi:10.1126/science.276.5314.932.
  24. ^ “Cucurbitaceae–Fruits for Peons, Pilgrims, and Pharaohs”. Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Backyard, College of California at Los Angeles. n.d. Archived from the original on October 16, 2013.
  25. ^ Fenton, William N. (1978). “Northern Iroquois Tradition Patterns”. In Set off, Bruce G. (ed.). Handbook of North American Indians, Quantity 15: Northeast. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Establishment. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-1600-4575-2.
  26. ^ Bilharz, Pleasure (2002). The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: compelled relocation via two generations. College of Nebraska Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-8032-6203-4.
  27. ^ Benz, Bruce F. (1986). Taxonomy and Evolution of Mexican Maize (doctoral thesis). College of Wisconsin, Madison. OCLC 17291438.

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