Companion gardening looks at what grows well together; what repels one another; and what just likes to be on its own. So we have the basic examples:
- Beans like beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, etc but don’t like garlic, onions, peppers and sunflowers
- Carrots and dill don’t get along, but carrots love beans, lettuce, onions, rosemary and sage.
- Corn and tomatoes don’t like one another
- Cucumbers don’t like any of the aromatic herbs
- Fennel loves to grow on its own
- Lettuce and broccoli don’t like each other; but lettuce loves asparagus, beets, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes
- Mint, strawberries and raspberries, and sunflowers will take over everything, so you want them contained
- Tomatoes repel diamondback moth larvae which chew holes in cabbage leaves
These are just a few examples but there are loads of them on the internet. All kinds of fancy charts that you can download and work with when gardening. But why do some plants like or dislike other plants. Well, there are many reasons, let’s look at a few:
1. Many plants grow well together because their essential oils, aromas or other characteristics help repel pathogens or attract other insects that prey on the pathogens. We talked about this a few weeks ago when we were looking at using plants for their natural pesticide capacity. For instance, beans attract the very insects that feed on the pests that prey on corn. Also note, although I have never done it, some say tomatoes vines will climb up the pole beans. I have two structures one for pole beans and another for tomatoes.
2. Another reason for companionship may be that one protects another from the hot sunlight. Or that they grow to different heights in order to take advantage of the sunlight. For instance, if you have rows of tomatoes, grow lettuce in between the rows as the tomatoes protect the lettuce from the hot sun.
3. Another reason is that one type of crop improves the flavor of another crop, i.e., dill next to cabbage. Apparently, this is an old wives’ tale, as I didn’t come across any actual science on it, but I am going to try it this year.
4. Some plants are considered heavy feeders like tomatoes, broccoli, corn, and cabbage, all of which take a lot of soil nutrients. Whereas others are considered light feeders like garlic, onions, peppers, sweet potatoes and swiss chard. We are most successful if we plant heavy feeders after light feeders. Then of course we have the soil builders like peas, beans and cover crops like clover.
Intensity gardening takes companion gardening a few steps further. You still work with the same combinations, but grow a lot more. Would you believe the origins of intensity gardening can be traced back 4,000 years to ancient China.
1. The first growth focus is to organize growing to move more upwards rather than sprawled out. And densely planting with rows between is the second focus. So, we start by building up good soils with lots of various manures – which we have been doing anyways, so yeah us.
2. Second you can prewarm the soil if necessary by spreading a sheet of plastic across the soils before sowing or transplanting.
3. We use narrow beds. Plants are arranged 2 or more plants across a single bed. Seeds are planted so that the leaves of the plant touch when growing…some will say even closer so the leaves grow sideways and up, rather than evenly spaced all around. A side effect is that a lot less nutrient is wasted.
4. Another big component of intensity growing is the use of succession planting. As one crop is nearing production, another crop is being planted in the row beside it.
We can use lettuce as a simple example. Normally we are taught to plant lettuce roots about 10-12 inches apart and space the rows about 12-18 inches apart. However, with intensity planting, you shovel out a row and just spread the seeds all along the row without concern about spacing. The rows remain about 12 inches apart. The lettuce leaves grow into the row area and grow up. This provides a huge amount of lettuce compared to the traditional method.
Combining Intensity and Companion Gardening
Now to combine intensity and companion growing let’s look at lettuce and tomatoes. Create a simple structure the length and width of your garden with cross bars down the length. Drill holes about 8-12 inches apart on the cross bars and feed rope, nylon whatever through them with a knot at the top so that several ropes hang down from the crossbar or trellis. This allows the tomatoes to grow up the ropes keeping them organized and much easier to thin out the leaves. In between the rows of tomatoes, you can grow lettuce.
This solves a number of issues.
One, the tomato plants grow up and stay organized.
Two you can easily keep the tomato plants thinned.
Three, the tomato protect the lettuce from the hot sun in mid-summer.
Four, the tomato plants and the lettuce plants protect each other from various pathogens.
Five, lettuce plants are light feeders whereas the tomato plants are heavy feeders so there is no competition.
Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous
Another example of this type of gardening is looking at the three most needed minerals: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. You want plants that cooperate with these minerals together as opposed to competing for them. For instance, plants required nitrogen, which is rich in the atmosphere, but plants need it in the ground, not the atmosphere. So plants that help “fix nitrogen” in the soil include most of the legume family. Often it is the bacteria within the plant that is fixing the nitrogen into the soil, but there are several variables involved including climate, temperatures, soil conditions, etc. Remember nitrogen fertilizers can also be damaging, so use nature to take care of nature.
Nitrogen fixing trees include: alder, acacia and mesquite
Nitrogen fixing shrubs include: olive trees, broom, bayberry
Nitrogen herbs fixers include: fave, green and French beans, peas, white and red clover, and alfalfa.
Some plants take a lot of nitrogen versus those that hold the nitrogen. Plants like radishes, carrots, beets and onion require low nitrogen whereas cabbage and leafy vegetables, potatoes and onions require a lot.
Plants that like high levels of potassium, found in potash, which promotes the production of fruits and flowers on plants, include: tomatoes, squash, salad greens and cooking greens.
Vegetables that are cold weather plants with shallow roots and a lot of top growth like lettuce, and most annual plants, require more phosphorous.
Now having said all that, I do use Himalayan salt in my gardens. I use about a tsp to a L of water, dissolve and water about once a month. The Himalayan salt has all the minerals in it so it is a great way to add minerals to the soil naturally. Don’t go overboard or some of the minerals will harm your soil microbes or get competitive.
Succession planting is a system that maximizes your available garden space by removing each crop as it finishes and immediately replacing it with another. For example, if you planted an early crop, such as peas or lettuce, harvested that, then replaced it with a warmer summer crop such as green beans. After the beans were harvested, you planted a late season crop of something like broccoli.
Sequential planting differs in that the same crop is replanted at short intervals to increase the harvest period. This would include planting green beans or radishes at two-week intervals for several weeks so that you get a smaller crop at each harvest but you would continue to harvest for a longer period of time.
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Dr. Holly Fourchalk, Ph.D., DNM®, RHT, MH, AAP, HT