Monday, September 14, 2009

Let your plants be an army, or commune (whichever way you want to swing) in the fight against pests and inorganic chemical gardening: Companion Planting

If there is a way to add diversity and keep pests at bay all the while looking lovely and enhancing resistances or tastiness in my garden without chemicals, I am there! That’s why I attempt to companion plant as often as possible even though not all of the suggestions of companion planting are tried and true scientifically. It is one of those age old, “Hmmm, this seems to work well together!” things that has done well for many gardeners of old and thus, keeping with tradition and having seen such positive results in my gardening past, I companion plant.

In brief, here are reasons that companion planting is a favorable, organic method of gardening and is just cool in general:

-Some plants exude certain chemicals that deter or confuse pests from noshing down of your plants, keeping your main crop healthy or less damaged by pests.

- Certain plants planted in proximity to another plant can affect the flavor of the other plant positively (need to be careful of this, because certain strongly scented/flavored plants can alter the flavor of a plant that you want to keep  in its original flavor).

-Plants that fix nitrogen or other minerals can fertilize another plant near it.

-One plant can be “bait” and act as a trap crop to save your prize crop from ruin.

-More plants, especially those of varying height forces pests to choose between plants, rather than them seeing the single massive skyscraper tomato plant available. Diversity is the antithesis of monocropping, meaning that it can be protect a garden from losing an entire crop because there’s so much to choose from! Nature is flexible and varied, so why shouldn't you be?

-Low growing companion plants may act like a groundcover than protects soil of the bed from drying out and may serve other functions such as fertilization or pest preventative.

-Multiple plants create mini-habitats/microclimates which attract, feed and house beneficial insects to take care of the actual baddies. These microclimates can also be helpful in ways such as shading an easily sun scaldable plant, such as bell peppers beneath a tall okra plant. Or borage plants attracting a brachonid wasp which infect hornworms on the tomato plant by the borage.

At the end of this post are some excellent sites with great companion planting lists. In a moment I will simply note a few of companion plants I use together.

How I companion plant:

-Strawberries with pole beans for fertilization and okra for shading, the beans climb up the okra too, like a Three Sisters effect sort of. Runner beans can be substituted for pole beans. Cucumber trellised up with the lot because they’re companions and fit. Borage planted here and there to enhance flavor and vigor of strawberries.

-Asparagus with tomatoes/peppers/eggplant and basil for flavor enhancement and pest prevention with French or Mexican marigold on the side or surrounding for pest/nematode prevention.

-Tomatoes with bush or pole beans for fertilization and basil and borage for tomato flavor enhancement and pest prevention. Sweet potato vine allowed to ramble to create a green groundcover to keep in soil moisture.

-Nasturtiums (so many types!) along the garden border all the time when possible as a trap crop and for food (until Mid South heat usually kills it) and garlic as a pest deterrent.

-French/Mexican marigold borders for pest/nematode preventative.

-Tiny flower herbs and very fragrant herbs planted all around such as oregano and mint (can be invasive though), to attract and nurse beneficials.