The term “The Three Sisters” comes from the Cherokee and Iroquois Indigenous Peoples practice of planting three plants that rely on each other, and help each other grow.
The true form of The Three Sisters consists of Corn, Beans, and Squash. The Squash acts as a groundcover for the crops, preventing weeds, as well as acting as a living mulch, holding in moisture, and keeping the soil cool. The Corn provides a natural trellis for the Beans to grow on. The beans act as a fertilizing agent by converting absorbed nitrogen to nitrates, using Rhizobia bacteria. The three sisters have been a common gardening practice for many centuries.
While the Cherokee and Iroquois were the main users of this method, it is known that at least 15 nations of Indigenous People used this method. It’s a method that has dated back to 1070 AD and still holds true to the best way to grow Corn, Beans, and Squash, no matter where you are in North America.
The Three Sisters represent spirits called De-o-ha-ko, meaning (our sustainers) which brings a beautiful spiritual meaning to this timeless concept of growing.
This practice is still very popular and common even today, especially in the Appalachian hills. My family and I would raise a garden almost every year, and we would use the three sisters’ method. It provided bumper crops to the point that we would call neighbors and friends over to help pick beans! Generational farmers have used this method for many years, and there’s a very good chance that the vegetables on your plate were grown using this method.
Doug Tallamy has a simple message; build it and they will come. We have all seen headlines discussing declines in bee populations and apocalyptic messages regarding extinctions of plant and animal species. Amidst these dire warnings, Doug offers a way forward in what he says is Nature’s Best Hope.
We must shrink the lawn.
When we reduce our lawn size and install native plants, we are able to address both the climate change and biodiversity crises simultaneously.
Keystone plants are essential!
Keystone plants are the 2×4’s of our ecological home. A few native plants are much better at supporting food webs than others, for example, 14% of our native plants make 90% of the caterpillar food that drives food webs.
Keystone plants only work where there are few lights!
Light pollution is one of the major causes of insect decline in the world. We can reduce this pollution with simple steps such as putting motion sensors on security lights or replacing external white bulbs with yellow bulbs.
We must allow caterpillars to complete their development.
94% of caterpillars pupate in the soil or leaf litter. We can make layered landscapes with plant beds at the base of trees that give plenty of leaf litter, promote softer soil for caterpillars to dig in to, and ensure nobody will step on or mow the caterpillars as they develop. Caterpillars are exceptionally efficient at moving energy through the food web which promotes biodiversity and contributes to the food that both animals and humans need to survive.
Doug has co-founded a website to host a national community united by a goal to shrink their lawn sizes. Homegrown National Park (link below) is a grassroots effort and call to action to regenerate biodiversity with no experience needed to start up! We simply need to identify native plants and start planting for these insects and birds to find and use. This is where Native Plant Finder (link below) and Wilcox Nursery can help you!
Plant Suggestions to Bring Caterpillars to Your Yard!
Full to Part Sun Plant Pallet:
Part to full Shade Plant Pallet:
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson