Tuesday, January 17, 2012

So Happy Together

Relationships are complicated.  Sometimes they are deep and beneficial and meant to last forever.  Sometimes they are shallow, short and of little consequence.  Sometimes they are even toxic and we have to leave them to save our own souls and sanity.  So it is with the matter of our hearts...

And with the plants we choose for our gardens, too.

Broccoli, for example, grows larger and tastier when you let it mingle with onions and potatoes.  It's healthier when surrounded by rosemary, sage, dill and chamomile.  And does alright in the company of light feeders like beets, nasturtium and marigolds... but try to make it a companion of tomatoes, pole beans or strawberries (all of which siphon off calcium) and it shows its wimpy side.  Force broccoli to hang out with the likes of lettuce and it gets downright nasty, poisoning the lettuce seedlings from its roots.

A little foreknowledge about who's got a crush on who and which families have long standing and bitter feuds will make you a better matchmaker for the seedlings you lovingly place in the garden with hopes and dreams of a bounteous future harvest.   Companion planting, as this matchmaking is called, uses of the complex interactions among plants to accentuate their best qualities.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service defines companion planting as:  the establishment of two or more plant species in close proximity so that some cultural benefit is derived.  Basically, companion plants can be used to:

  • Produce odors to deter or confuse pests.
  • Draw pests away from crop plants.
  • Provide breeding grounds and/or food for beneficial insects.
  • Improve the vigor and flavor of nearby plants.

Companion planting is organic gardening at its most basic and has been used since Roman times, and probably even earlier than that.  An example that's so well known that probably nearly everyone has heard of it is the "Three Sisters" technique of planting corn, beans and squash together.  It originated in North America with the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) native tribal people and has been used throughout the Americas and in the Caribbean.  With this technique, corn provides the support for the climbing beans; the beans supply extra nitrogen to the corn and squash; and the squash limits weed growth around the plants with its large spreading leaves.  Each provides something the others need so they can happily co-inhabit the same space.

For information on more companion plantings, download my handy dandy work-in-progress chart.

1 comment:

Melonie said...

We love the Three Sisters concept. However, I now have your title stuck in my head to the tune of the song - but it's the only line I know. LOL