Every year since 2015, the Southwest Indiana Master Gardener Association has tended the “Three Sisters” garden at Angel Mounds. Master Gardener volunteers follow a schedule to tend the garden and participate in events to educate the public.
To begin our description of the “Three Sisters” garden, we must first travel back in time over a thousand years ago. The Mississippians, a prehistoric Indian culture, began to settle and build communities around water tributaries. They settled in these areas because corn (maize) had become part of their subsistence diet. They planted large areas of corn in the rich bottomland soil. It was a crop that was easy to raise, store and trade. These sites, dominated by male chieftains were centers for trade, politics, religion and sporting events.
At first, the Mississippians only planted corn and squash together. Later they added beans and these crops became the “Three Sisters” garden of today. This method of planting spread to all the Native American sites. Every modern tribe in North and Central America plant a version of the “Three Sisters” and created a legend that is associated with this method of gardening. The Mississippians became the first horticulturists/farmers in North America. Although they had no written language, they used legends to pass on these procedures and techniques to modern man.
Corn, beans, and squash planted together on a small mound is a productive and compact method of producing food. These three plants planted together became the first companion garden. The beans provide nitrogen for the corn and the corn provides a pole for the beans to climb. The squash’s broad leaves help maintain moisture in the soil and its prickly vines help keep insects out. The three also provide protein, starches, and vitamins necessary to support a balanced diet.
Our friends at the IU Glenn Black lab have also identified other plants that were cultivated at the Angel location. Sunflowers, gourds, tobacco, and quinoa. The Native Americans would have also foraged for flowers and herbs. Examples of these plants are also grown in the“Three Sisters” garden.
Denise and Robert Lynch have been co-chairs of the “Three Sisters” garden at Angel Mounds since 2015. The Southwest Indiana Master Gardener Association adheres to Purdue guidelines and their mission statement, goals and objectives. Everyone is encouraged to visit their website to learn more about their activities throughout the region!