Survival Gardening the Native American Way

Three sisters - corn, beans, squash

Three sisters – corn, beans, squash

Sometimes, the old way of doing things IS the best way. You don’t have to look for any further evidence than Native American gardening. Studying and applying their methods to your home garden will unearth the secret to growing sustainable food annually for you and your family. Plants will grow more productively. 

The Basics

If you think of Native Americans as only hunters and gatherers, you’re wrong. They were among the first people to live off of green husbandry. How? By living simply, respecting Mother Earth for her natural bounties and by companion planting – a deliberate mixing of plants that grow in harmony.

The Three Sisters (corn, squash and beans) are the most popular of the Native American planting systems still in use today. Growing all the seeds together in a dirt mound ensures all three crops grow successfully. Squash provides shelter as well as repeals pests; beans supply nitrogen to the dirt and corn is a natural lattice.

Among some southwest tribes, it was customary to add a fourth plant, a bee plant, for pollinating gardens. Bees are essential to the survival of our ecosystem and food chain; this supports pollinators by providing pollen and nectar as their sustainable food source.

Other Combinations

The traditional Native American companion system works for (among many other combinations):

  • Pairing asparagus with basil, parsley and tomatoes. Plant pot marigolds nearby to keep beetles at bay.
  • Planting any of the cabbage family with beets, chard, onion, and potato. Pair with garlic and chamomile to increase flavor and growth.
  • Growing peppers with carrots, eggplant, onion and tomatoes.

Where To Garden

Unlike a lot of modern farming and gardening methods, the Native Americans did not plow the earth to promote crop growth. They used the earth’s soil as it was to maintain its integrity. Think it can’t be done in today’s fast-paced, want-what-you-want-when-you-want world? Think again.

  • Build a lasagna garden by layering your garden with old newspapers or cardboard. You’ll want to wet the layer to set it in place before adding either horse or cow manure. Next, before you bag all those leaves you’ve raked…use them as your third layer. Keep layering until you’ve reached about 24 inches. Water and use plastic to cover to fast-track decomposition.
  • Plant a raised vegetable garden to regulate soil quality and nurture an organic environment for your vegetables. It can be built in a weekend using materials from stone to logs to wood. The only requirement is a confined area for your soil.
  • Grow any plant using straw bale to contain your garden. As it decomposes, it leaves behind an organic setting ideal for crop growth.


Before you begin your home garden – whether you think of it as survival gardening or a longing for a simpler way of life or money-saving economics, turn to the Native Americans for a lesson in how to successfully live off of Mother Earth. Their traditional way of gardening is a reminder that if we return to the earth what we take from her, she will continue to sustain us.

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About Bret Smith

I am a long-time lover of all things outdoors. Whether hunting, shooting, fishing or just hiking and camping, I take every opportunity to enjoy nature and share it with others.

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