Indian planting methods : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Can anyone explain to me how to plant corn, pole beans and squash using the Indian method? I cannot find any good info on this in my books and I wanted to try this in the garden this year. Thanks.

-- Tiffani Cappello (, February 25, 2001


Tiffani, I was in southern Mexico last May on a Mission trip. Watched indians (decendants of Aztec's) planting corn. They were using a stick to punch holes in the ground and then dropping what looked like little pieces of meat or fish in the hole then a little dirt then the corn seed. But, their seed was a large seed a little bigger than a man's thumb nail. I was told it is the same seed their ancestors planted a thousand years ago. I couldn't get any at the time but I am trying to get some now. I did get some okra seed that had been in one of the missionaries families since before the war between the states. Hopefully I will have some to share after this growing season.

Gary in AL

-- Gary in AL (, February 26, 2001.

Try doing an online search for the "Three Sisters" planting method. Corn, beans and squash were the Indians' staple foods and grew together in symbiotic relationship, so called them the Three Sisters. I'm no expert, but here's how I understand that they did it and why:

They'd start by mounding dirt up a bit to make a bit of a hill or mound. In the middle of this mound, they'd dig a hole and bury a fish. Then would plant their corn on top of that, climbing pole beans around the corn and squash around both of them a few inches out from the corn and bean seeds. The fish gives fertilizer to the growing plants, the corn supports the beans, the beans (which fix nitrogen in the soil) help feed the corn (which is a notoriously heavy feeder) and the squash leaves act as living mulch for the entire thing ~ they shade the area so that it stays cool, moist and relatively weed-free.

Each group only contained a few plants of each type so they could all benefit from their close proximity. In their fields there would be MANY groups like this.

I don't know which varieties of corn, beans and squash they used, but can guess it was a strong-stalked variety of corn, pole beans that can grow well even with the shade from the corn (look for any type of pole bean with the word "Cornfield" in the name), and bush squash that stayed in a compact type of habit so the leaves would be shading the rest. I would also guess that it was a flint corn, winter squash and dry bean ~ all varieties of vegetables that can be stored well without modern conveniences like freezers and canning jars.

If you try to grow these, I would give the corn a bit of a head start before planting the beans so they don't smother your corn. Also, keep an eye out for cats, dogs and other varmints that will dig up your plants trying to get the fish!

-- Wingnut (, February 26, 2001.

Great! I sure would like to try this. Anyone out there ever used fish in corn hills before? Is this fresh fish? Anyone have any luck finding fish for this purpose?

-- Tiffani Cappello (, February 26, 2001.

Mackeral... As far as SHEER QUANTITY of fish to make a decent 'indian- garden', mackeral fills the bill. Take a party boat trip from NC to MA somewhere between April 1st to June 1st, and bring home a bushel full. (Around april 25th, in the waters near us.) My buddy does that to get fish for HIS garden, and for bait for the rest of the year. He gave me some mackeral for my crab pots, and chicken legs just can't compare to the # of crabs you'll catch with mackeral! Enjoy.

-- Action Dude (, February 26, 2001.

Tiffani, I've tried just planting the fresh fish in my garden, but had lots of trouble with the barn cats and racoons digging them up and unplanting my seeds in the process. I've started making a "tea" out of the fish parts left over from cleaning them for eating ~ just put them in a gallon jar, fill with water and let sit for a few months, then strain and dilute before using. Use an old jar that's designated especially for that and old pantyhose that can be thrown away. Rubber gloves are a good idea, too. Not only does this stuff stink, but the fish oil accumulates into clumps in the jar and it's really hard to get it off your hands (or anything for that matter).

I'm lucky in that I have two spring-fed creeks on my place and two nephews that LOVE to fish. I'll send them out to catch a mess of fish, then we'll clean them for dinner and save the heads, entrails, etc., for my garden. That stuff is GREAT fertilizer! Just use sparingly and don't forget to dilute it ~ if it's too strong, the cats will dig up your plants anyway. If you don't want to go through all that trouble, I think the fish emulsion that is sold at most nurseries and garden centers is pretty much the same thing.

-- Wingnut (, February 26, 2001.

I just contacted a local fish supplier in my area and they said I could have all the fish heads and guts I want for free. Hurray! Imagine being excited about fish guts. Only me.

I just remembered an fullblood Amer. Indian elder that is a friend of a friend. She gave me his e-mail. I will have to see if they had some sort of trick to keeping the critters out of the corn fields. Maybe it was the dogs? I'll let you folks know if I find out anything. If not I plan on using the fish liquid. Has anyone tried putting fish in under other plantings?

-- Tiffani Cappello (, February 26, 2001.

Tiffani, please let us know if you find out from your Indian friend how they dealt with the critters digging. I'd love to know!

-- Wingnut (, February 26, 2001.

I work in a pet store and unfortunately, we have fish that die (usually the goldfish that are fed to larger fish) I bring these home and put it under all my new bushes and plants. I also "plant" any of the baby bunnies and chicks that don't make it.

-- Dee (, February 26, 2001.

Wow! Have you noticed difference -especially with the chicks and rabbits? Makes me wonder if you can throw an egg or two in there?

-- Tiffani Cappello (, February 26, 2001.

Whenever we bury some of our animals, we sprinkle black pepper on the grave and nothing digs into it. You might try the same with your planting.

-- (, February 27, 2001.

You might try to find a way to powder it (grind it & dry it). I think the fish meal for sale in stores is steamed (to remove the oil), then dried & ground. If the natives didn't use fresh fish in planting, it might have been dried (fish jerky). Just a guess.


-- animalfarms (, February 27, 2001.

I saw in last months Mother Earth News an article about the indian way of planting. It seemed pretty informative to me. I have been collecting heirloom seeds said to date back to Native American gardens, for grins. I liked the Cherokee purple tomatoes, I grew last year. Most of what I have come across this year has been beans,Cherokee trail of tears beans, Anasazi beans, and Indian woman yellow bush beans. I am not really set up to grow corn. Hammer

-- Hammer (, March 02, 2001.

I have been trying for several seasons now to figure out how this was done. It seems to be an issue of timing. The first year I planted everything simultaneously and the beans quickly overwhelmed the corn plants. (I plant my corn in hills as described) Last year I staggered the beans two weeks after the corn. They still choked the corn plants. This year I staggered the growth three weeks and we shall see. So far so good. But, the Indians also believed that the planting had to be timed to the moon. I spoke to maya farmers in Belize about planting corn and they swore that planting under a full moon strengthens the plants and increases yield. I'll let you know how the full moon thing works. The best book I have read on the subject is called "Indians of the Southeast." They have a rather detailed chapter on corn ceremonies and corn planting. But so far I have not found a how to manual. But keep the faith. I am just a season( or so) away from knowing the answer...

-- andy (, May 07, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ