Ask Eartha: Companion gardening offers a cornucopia of possibilities
April 30, 2014
I'm really looking to find ways of being more synchronized with nature when planting my garden, and a few friends have suggested companion planting. Can you explain what this is and how I can incorporate it while I begin to plan for this year's garden? — Linda (Keystone)
Your friends are definitely onto something, Linda. Companion planting is an organic gardening technique that encourages the growth of multiple crops in the same space and focuses on the benefits of specific plant combinations. It enables the efficient use of space while providing natural weed and pest control. As a result, pollination is easier, and habitat for beneficial creatures can be created in your garden.
Using this method can be really fun because it allows you to really get creative and mix things up. Combining veggies with herbs and fruits is highly encouraged. Plant some edible flowers in there and you'll really be doing OK! Nasturtiums are among my favorites, spicy in flavor while also introducing vibrant oranges and reds into your growing space. The aesthetic appeal of a garden so harmonious is undeniable.
When planning your garden: Simply make a list of the plants you'd like to harvest, select cultivars for our climate and see which ones are compatible. "Carrots Love Tomatoes," by Louise Riotte, is an amazing guide for companion planting and reviews a variety of different fruits, vegetables, trees and herbs. Its sequel, "Roses Love Garlic," is just as fantastic and addresses companion planting of flowers.
Just as some plants are beneficial to one another, some are detrimental, so these combinations will also need to be noted when doing your research. Once you know which plants work well together, you'll be ready to start considering your planting options.
If you're new to gardening, here are a few helpful hints and combinations of common plants that consistently work well together:
Lettuce is successful when planted with cucumbers, radishes, carrots and strawberries. It also does very well as a replacement in the spot of recently picked green onion, as the onions have already have prepared the soil to be sufficiently nourishing. The remaining green onions benefit from the presence of the lettuce while simultaneously deterring rabbits. A perfect pair.
Tomatoes also tend to have many companions: chives, onions, marigold and garlic just to name a few. Be sure to plant plenty of basil in the same area, as it will improve both the growth and flavor of the tomatoes. The basil will also help the tomato to overcome insect and disease without the use of unnatural chemicals. Not only will tomatoes, garlic and basil grow symbiotically but the combo makes for wonderful homegrown bruschetta.
Perhaps the most useful plant of the organic garden is garlic. In the words of author and organic gardener Catharine Osgood Foster, it can be appreciated for its "excellent taste and because of its potent and efficacious antibiotic and repellent qualities." It works well as both a rabbit and a mole repellent, which is why it is often planted around fruit trees. Planting it sporadically throughout your garden will also benefit a variety of vegetables, including tomatoes, celery, spinach, beans, radishes and cucumber.
Naturally, companion planting results in a diverse and healthy garden ecosystem. In addition to being easy, effective and fun, it should certainly allow you to feel that your garden is in sync with the rhythms of nature.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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