companion planting

They Make it Look so Easy…

Justin and Eyry have been busy tending their garden, mostly by watching it grow. :)  You remember them, don’t you?  The creative couple with the backyard garden and veggie washing station?  Yes, love that idea.  Well, they are doing quite well, as you can see.

Sugar peas, corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumber, pumpkin, garlic and of course, marigolds.  Now you may think those marigolds are there to make the garden look pretty–which they do–but they serve a dual purpose as insect repellent.  Yep.  Below the ground they ward off pesky nematodes by excreting a chemical toxic to the microscopic pests.  Above ground they’re said to repel squash bugs, tomato hornworms, whiteflies and some beetles.  I do love a multi-tasker! More

I LOVE This Idea…

Now why didn’t I think of this?  A vegetable washing table, complete with hose and close proximity to the harvest bounty! 

I do like a gardener who thinks “outside” the garden—as in:  ”Where am I going with this stuff?”

Probably because he’s a man.  A woman thinks practicality:  Going to the kitchen now to prepare my fresh veggies…  She knows there’s a sink in the kitchen.  A man thinks solution:  This stuff is dirty and I’ve got to clean it off before bringing it anywhere near the kitchen.  A well-trained husband, that is. :) More

Inspectors in the Garden

Well, you knew it would happen.  Yes, our plants have come under attack.  By what, you ask?

Not sure.  But these kids are on the hunt.  Folded within the leaves of the beans are bugs, the kind with numerous legs and countless more eggs.  As you can see, once fully grown, these little fellas can do some damage!

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Friends Planting Friends in the Garden

This week the kids learned the concept of companion planting.  Simply put, grouping plants together by how they can help each other is one of the secrets to organic gardening.  (So is worm poop, but we’ll get to that later.)  Squash bugs LOVE squash plants but they HATE radish.  So how about we plant radish next to our squash?

Our radish help our squash by preventing an attack of squash bugs!  How great a friend is that? More

Companion Planting and Your Garden

As my fall garden season approaches, my mind is filled with visions of splendor.  With a freshly tilled garden, I can see my plants grow lush and full, their bounty promising a fruitful harvest.  What do I want to grow this year?  More important question is what do I want to eat?

Pumpkins.  Or should I say, homemade pumpkin pie.  The kids and I are set on pumpkins this year, both at home and school, so those babies are first on the list.  Second?  Beans, of course.  Who doesn’t love beans?  And onions–but not in adjoining beds.  No.  These two do not care for each other and will not yield the fabulous crop of my imagination.  Why not?

They’re not good companions in the garden and companion planting is KEY when it comes to organic gardening.  What is it and why do we do it?  In a nutshell–or bean pod–it’s organizing your beds according to plants that help one another and steering clear of those combinations that don’t.  For more details, my friends have Companion Planting have explained it pretty well:

Companion planting is based around the idea that certain plants can benefit others when planted next to, or close to one another.  It exists to benefit certain plants by giving them pest control, naturally without the need to use chemicals, and in some cases they can give a higher crop yield.

Generally, companion planting is thought of as a small-scale gardening practice, but it can be applied on larger-scale operations. It has been proven that by having a beneficial crop in a nearby field that attracts certain insects away from a neighboring field that has the main crop can prove very beneficial. This action is called trap cropping.

While companion planting has a long history, the benefits of companion planting have not always been understood. Traditional recommendations, for companion planting have been used by gardeners for a long time, but recent tests are proving scientifically, that they work.

Other ways that companion planting can be beneficial is to plant a crop like any Legumes, on an area where it will feed nitrogen into the soil, then it will not be necessary to use any chemical fertilizers for the next crop.  (Corn and beans are excellent companions.)

The African marigold, along with other plants, are well-known for companion planting, as they exude chemicals from their roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests and protect neighboring plants.  (My roses love marigold!)

Companion planting also exists in a physical way. For example, tall-growing, sun-loving plants may share space with lower-growing, shade-tolerant species, resulting in higher total yields from the land. This is called spatial interaction, and can also yield pest control benefits, for example, the presence of the prickly vines is said to discourage raccoons from ravaging sweet corn.

Another type of companion planting is called Nurse cropping, where tall or dense-canopied plants may protect more vulnerable plants through shading or by providing a wind break. For example, oats have long been used to help establish alfalfa and other forages by supplanting the more competitive weeds that would otherwise grow in their place. In many instances, nurse cropping is simply another form of physical-spatial interaction.

Beneficial habitats-sometimes called refugia—are another type of companion planting that has received a lot of attention in recent years. The benefit is derived when companion plants provide a good environment for beneficial insects, and other arthropods, especially those predatory and parasitic species that help to keep pest populations in check. (Ladybugs are super-beneficial insects, too!)

So as you contemplate your next crop, take companion planting into account and organize accordingly.  It really will make a difference, particularly when it comes to alleviating trouble spots.  From bugs to weeds, companion planting is the way to go.  And anything that takes the “work” out of gardening is a friend to me. :)  For an idea of who likes who in the garden, check out their complete list of companion plants.

Tami’s Growing Strong

For a first time gardener, Tami is doing AWESOME.  In this bed you can see her plants look great—squash, peppers, tomatoes and basil are all thriving together in harmony. If you remember, she planted the basil right in between her tomatoes, because these two make wonderful companions in the garden.  Funny, they make wonderful companions on the dinner plate, too.  Coincidence?

She’s pinched tomato suckers and pulled basil flower heads to keep these two healthy and happy.  To continue this progress, she can prune her tomatoes once they begin to grow past the top of her tomato cage.  This will also help to keep them full and strong.

The next bed over is residence to her okra and lettuce AND her first harvest.  Already!  Can you believe it?

Okra and lettuce make great companions, especially here in Central Florida because the canopy of the okra shades the more delicate lettuce leaves allowing them to flourish with ease.  (I’m about ready for a salad.  Anyone else?)

Upon closer inspection, we notice remnant damage on her okra leaf from the aphids and ant battle.  Not sure if this is from the diatomaceous earth of the aphids sucking the life out of the plant.  Will have to get back to you on that one.  But the plants appear to be fine in general, with no lasting trauma.

Next up is our pole beans which suspiciously resemble bush beans.  Now these varieties can produce very similar bean pods, but the big clue?  No climbers. 

Hmph.  Never know what’s in these bags we buy these days.  Remember our weed plant inside the blueberry?  It happens.  Course in my garden it’s usually do the fact that I occasionally forget what I’m planting where—despite my fabulous excel program!  Sheesh.  Yet another reason to become self-sustaining!  (Just keep your brain cells more organized than mine.)

Go figure.  Anyhoo, everything looks great.  Beans are plump and her cucumber and watermelon are bursting with life from their in ground “hill” site.

Martha Stewart and Me

I’m a fan of Martha Stewart. I love her magazine, would love her show (if I had time to watch during the day) and I love her savvy business sense.  But one of the things I like best of all is that she gives great advice.  Really helpful stuff.  This month in her magazine (get the iPad version—its awesome!) she discusses the benefits of companion eating.  In the garden, we often talk companion planting, but companion eating?

You know I was intrigued.  What was this strange new concept of pairing foods according to the laws of nature?  What were the benefits?  As a born-to-sell kinda gal, I think in terms of features and benefits, goals and rewards (a tough sell in my role as stay at home mom) and I wanted to know more.  Talk to me, Martha!  How can you help?

According to her panel of health experts, some foods are most effective—nutritionally speaking—when eaten together.  By pairing them, you maximize nutritional output by increasing absorption potential.  Have I got your attention, yet?  Snagged me right off the garden bed.

Spinach is packed  full of plant-based iron—not easily absorbed by the body.  Summon the lemon!  (Or grapefruit, oranges—anything high in vitamin C.)  Why?  They say the Vitamin C changes the molecular structure of this type of iron which makes it more digestible. Looking for a healthy breakfast?  Go for a similar effect with oatmeal and OJ.

Now here’s a kicker:  did you know that lycopene needs to be combined with fat to be absorbed via the intestinal wall?  And of course non-saturated fats are best.  Think: olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish.  I do love fresh garden tomatoes drenched olive oil.  Mozzarella and basil only intensify my delight.

Next time your child asks for a banana-peanut butter sandwich, run to the pantry, grab the bread, slice the banana, smear the butter and slap that baby together—quick!—before they change their mind. It seems the potassium in bananas inhibits the retention of sodium; a good thing!  Tuna and soy sauce work the same way as do romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing.  Very cool news.  While my low blood pressure appreciates the extra sodium, my old lady eyes do not .  At all.  :) 

And speaking of kids, keep on serving up those whole grain cereals with milk because calcium can be rendered ineffective without magnesium (found in whole grains, nuts and soy).  Try serving their next grilled cheese with whole grain bread.  YUM and healthy.

Okay. Now this last one made me rethink the entire article. You mean to tell me there’s an actual science to why chicken soup is good for you?

Apparently.  According to Martha’s experts, the zinc in poultry, shellfish, nuts and beans produce a protein that transports vitamin A (found in carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens) to the retina.  Very important to sight.

While we’re on the subject of soup, Martha has one of the best recipes for basic chicken soup.  But for those non-soup fans, take heart.  Turkey and sweet potatoes work, as do beans and cheddar cheese.  Hmmm…  Are you with me?  How about a little bean chili for dinner tonight?

Whatever you do, don’t miss Martha Stewart Living.  Bright colors, vivid photography, savory and creative recipes, this is a subscription I look forward to each and every month.  Especially my iPad version.  Not only is it animated, but it includes videos, links, recipes I can click save (to a photo album) for later use in the kitchen.  LOVE it!

**This article is from the current issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine ~ pick yours up today!

Learn Something New

Did you know that basil can kill rosemary? I had no idea.  Did you know that some plants don’t like to be near each others while others do?

This concept is called companion planting and very important when planning an organic garden.  As you know, the kids and I are moving the garden, planting in a new spot this spring, but “planter beware” when it comes to what goes where…

Cucumbers love sunflowers, so we’ll plant them both along the fence.  But potatoes?  Not so much.  Best to keep them away from each other.  How about corn?  It wants nothing to do with tomatoes and vice versa, but it enjoys the companionship of squash and peas.  And bush beans?  Can’t stand everything about the onion family or basil, but they like potatoes!

Are you confused yet?  Don’t be.  It’s just a matter of using your reference guide well.  Here’s a good list from Absolute Astronomy to get you started, but there are a ton of others out there so don’t be shy—click your mouse away!  The main thing is to keep a plant’s needs in mind.  For instance, in our garden here’s what we’re planting by row:  cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, corn, squash, bush beans, potatoes.  Along the fence next to our cucumbers will be the sunflowers.  (We LOVE sunflowers!)  On the opposite side, we’ll plant a small herb garden.  We’ll interplant some herbs with our vegetables (basil with tomato, etc.) but we wanted to keep this area separate, as our rosemary and lavender will continue to grow.  No sense pulling them out!  Wanna see? Take a peek at our excel file: School garden layout

We’ve planted potatoes already and today the kindergarteners planted corn.  Very exciting.  You’ll notice we keep track of our progress by recording the dates of each planting. 

I like to color code according to rotation group as well (another key tenet of organic gardening) such as beans (blue), leaves (green), roots (orange) and fruits (pink).  Have to keep it fun!  Corn is part of the grass family so it has its own color.  And while potatoes are technically in the same family (nightshades) as tomatoes, I treat them differently when it comes to crop rotation. 

As we move forward, we’ll talk more about the “what” and the “why” of how we plant, but in the meantime, check out the Garden Elements section of this website.  You’ll find tons of information to get you started!

Happy gardening!

All Around Update

As you may have noticed, my website was down for some time last week–technical glitch–but has since been repaired.  However, my gorgeous design didn’t fare as well; something I hope to remedy soon. :)  In the meantime, we’ll work with what we have and catch up on what we missed!

First off, Mandy’s edible landscape is coming right along and promises to provide us with the perfect example of companion planting at its best.  In the raised planter she has rosemary and cabbage–real snuggle bugs in the garden.  Down below she planted carrots, beets and radish (the larger ones)–all BFF!  Why?  Refer to previous garden coaching post for full details but know that as they grow, they’ll not only prove to be a help to one another, but they’ll also fill in for a lovely layered landscape–great for curb appeal. 

 Moving to the school garden, we see the kids have been busy too.  As part of a move to make better use of our yard space we’re moving the garden to a sunny section located just around the corner from our current spot.  Tucked away in a back corner of the school sports field, it will turn an empty space into a productive space.  And isn’t that what we’re all about?  Productivity?

Of course!  Speaking of productive, the kindergarteners learned a valuable lesson in seed saving.  As organic gardeners, we like to be self-sustaining–a really big word for the little ones to comprehend, but the concept is simple.  We grow beans, we eat beans but we save some beans for next season!  Kids understand independence and that’s the kind of gardeners we are (a.k.a. self-sustaining)!

We used the seed packets made from the templates found in the Kid Buzz section of this website.  So easy, a child can make them on their own!  (I know, because I had my two demonstrate this fact. :))

So this season when your labors turn to fruit–save those seeds for next season!  Around these parts that means spring.

Mandy’s Companions in the Garden

Companion planting is a key to organic gardening. It helps reduce the need for pesticides, weeding and even fertilizing!  How so?  Well take corn and beans–neither of which Mandy is planting at the moment, but it makes for a great case in point. 

Beans fix nitrogen into the soil, while corn uses lots of nitrogen!  It’s a heavy feeder you know.  So you could plant beans and corn next to one another.  Add a line of squash around their base and voila!  You have weed protection.  The wide leaves of the squash will shade the ground thereby reducing the ability of weeds to grow!  In fact, this is a technique used by Native American Indians years before the invention of fertilizer sprays and such.

In Mandy’s case, she’s planting cabbage and rosemary together, carrots and beets in the row just below them.  Rosemary makes a wonderful companion for cabbage and carrots because it repels cabbage moths and carrot flies.  Carrots and beets are great friends too, so lining them in the same bed makes perfect sense.  I mingle beets with my garlic as the garlic helps to improve the flavor of the beets.  And beets could use a little help in this department if you know what I mean.

The only words of advice in companion planting are the obvious:  make sure they are indeed companions and second:  each plant has enough room to grow and mature without being overtaken by its pal.  Otherwise, the friendship may suffer. :)  You see, these red cabbage may have been planted too close to the struggling rosemary transplants, but only time will tell.  Stay-tuned and happy gardening!