Companion Planting

The question that most people ask is “What is companion planting?” or “How does companion planting work?”

OK, here’s my take on companion planting, think of it as a friend or friends with a bad case of Halitosis or Stinky feet, you want to stay well away from this person…….. Cool, you can speak to them and they are a good people, but just keep your distance. Or on the flip side, Companion planting can be like a homely kitchen with the smell of baking biscuits and warm vanilla. You either want to be real close for a taste or far away enough to appreciate but not partake.

Now, not all plants in the ‘Halitosis’ category are bad for other plants, they are just bad for insects and other pests, the plants don’t seem to mind the ‘smell’ where as for others the halitosis is overwhelming. Now where does this come from?

Companion planting is using the plants allelopathic ability to create or produce an environment that will allow for either beneficial growth, pest or disease resistance or on the opposite scale repelling effects. If you are a gardener you have experience the effects of allelopathy in your own garden, some just did not know what it was.

Here is a good example, have you ever tried to grow something under a Pine or Bluegum tree? Not much grows under these trees specifically because of the ‘exudations’ of the plant gives off, either via the roots into the soil or the fact that it drops leaves/needles that taint the soil. There is also some very interesting research that there are chemicals that are airborne and are released into the air that can affect other plants nearby (Of the same or different species).

On the other side, companion planting can extend into occult practices and are subject to very blurred interpretation where people start speaking about the vibrations and rhythms that these plants give off. Very dubious interpretation in my opinion.

In addition, certain plants will produce an abundance of macro and micro nutrients into the soil that can then be taken-up by other plants. Everyone knows that legumes will add nitrogen into the soil, this is one blatant example of companion planting (Not everything needs to be planted at the same time to be classified as companion planting) I have seen it this year with wheat that was planted into beds that had beans in over the summer, the wheat is doing far better in the beads that had beans in, and well (but not as well) in the other beds.

We have all heard the age old advice of planting garlic with your roses, to keep aphids away, does it work? Yes of course. But this is only the start of companion planting. There are many ways that you can improve your crops in the vegetable garden using companion planting. Some quick examples are Asparagus and Parsley, one protects the other and improves the flavor of the asparagus. Next don’t plant melons near corn, I learnt this the hard way this year and if you have a look at the photo you can clearly see what looks like succession planting, is actually corn that grows better the further they are away from the melons. One of the companion ‘teams’  that are more obscure are cabbage and mint, the mint protects the cabbage patch, I’ve never had the nerve to let mint grow rampant in my garden but I do move pots of mint close to the cabbages. The only problem is in winter when the mint dies down.  Also for those of you that are planting both potatoes and tomatoes in your garden this spring, keep them on opposite ends of the garden…. Unless you like glassy ‘taters and small hard tomatoes.

Mielies planted next to melons (on the right) pumpkins are coming out of the mielie patch.
Mielies planted next to melons (on the right) pumpkins are coming out of the mielie patch.

One of the most famous companion planting techniques is the Three Sisters Technique that was pioneered by the North American Native Indians where they planted Corn, pole beans (Runner beans) and pumpkins in the same patch, the corn gave support to the beans and the big leaves of the pumpkin helped with moisture conservation in the plot. While the beans provided nitrogen for both of the other crops.

I find that a lot of the companion planting advice on the net is conflicting and is dubious at best. I have found only one site that I think is really worthwhile,  but if you would like an in-depth look at companion planting, or if you are like me and you love books, do yourself a favor and get a good book that specifically concentrates on companion planting. There are two that I can recommend.

Either one of these books will give you a good grounding on how to use companion planting to your best advantage, and increase your yield or reduce your need to spray pesticides.

What’s in my Garden?

We have broken the back of winter (Winter solstice) and every sunrise from now on is one day closer to spring. YeeeHaa roll on spring!!!

Our winter here on the Highveld has been very mild so far , but we are expecting a big cold front to hit tomorrow morning. This evening I was running around and getting some of my more tender plants undercover and making sure that nothing will get lost with the mornings frost.

Asparagus cut back, and two types of parsley on the left.
Asparagus cut back, and two types of parsley on the left.

Most of the cleaning up has been done, the gooseberry’s and asparagus bushes have been cut back and they are waiting for a nice thick compost dressing, A lot of my beds are now empty and have been receiving their winter cloak of compost and are waiting for next seasons seed and seedlings. All that’s left growing are cabbages, carrots, beetroot, onions, garlic, spinach and some lettuce, oh and the wheat of course.

I have one peach tree in the orchard (a De Wet) that is bursting forth in blossom for what reason… I don’t know. But I fear that it is going to get properly whacked by the frost in the next few days. I don’t think I’ll put my hopes up on a good harvest from that tree. For the rest, the apple trees have still not lost all of their leaves, but I’ll be pruning them this weekend come what may.

The edible quote.

The first three men in the world were a gardener, a ploughman, and a grazier; and if any man object that the second of these was a murderer, I desire he would consider that as soon as he was so, he quitted our profession and turned builder.
– Abraham Cowley

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