companion planting

New How-To Grow Section

This fall I’m switching it up and adding a new “How-To” grow section under my “Gardening Guide for Easy Vegetables.” It will outline instructions on how to grow beautiful, healthy organic vegetables. Over the next few weeks, more pages will appear, each outlining directions from seed to sprout, problems to watch out for, good companions, bad companions and specialty tips, as in the case of tomatoes.

It’s my way of organizing information in an easy to find navigation of my site. Since every plant is unique and beautiful and requires different care, I’ve listed some basics.

Ashley's overflowing with growth

General tips of the trade:

Plant depth will reflect seed size. The smaller the seed, the more shallow planting depth.

Heirloom seeds are preferred over hybrid, because we practice self-sustaining gardening and seeds harvested from hybrids won’t reproduce the fruit they were harvested from. Instead, you’ll get a surprise veggie!

Keep in mind that plants like soft, fluffy beds. If your soil is too dense or too loose, like Goldilocks, your plants will complain. Homegrown compost fits the bill best!

Mulch keeps the moisture in and natural hay or pine straw works perfect, though pine should be reserved for your more acid-loving plants like potatoes, peanuts, strawberries and blueberries.

Companion planting helps keep your plants healthy and happy. Two plants that work well with everyone are lettuce and okra.

Fish emulsion is a great all-around organic fertilizer. Gives mild dose of nitrogen and stinky enough to keep the bugs at bay.

Now, I’m getting ready for fall gardening–care to join me?

Photo Share

The garden is growing great these days with minimal weeds. Gotta love that combination, right?

Credit goes to my heavy black ground cover and my frequent visits. Vigilance is key when it comes to keeping up with weeds in an organic garden. Unfortunately, elbow grease is still one of the best weapons one has. Corn gluten works well, but you have to reapply after heavy rains and/or frequent watering. So I watch and pick and pluck in the meanwhile.

It’s relaxing. As is walking by the blueberry bushes and seeing the plump blue fruit popping between leaves. So beautiful.

delectable blueberries

My chickpeas are progressing.

chickpeas in the garden

They haven’t kept pace with the compost pile but then again, Mother Nature still rocks when it comes to gardening. But alas…this is what I have to look forward.

chickpea pod

That little pod holds 1-2 chickpeas. Unlike most other legumes that produce half a dozen beans per pod, the chickpea plant tends to be a minimalist. On to other rows…my sweet onions are ready ~ yay! That’s one between the strawberries, their wonderful companions in the garden.

sweet onions

Along with my potatoes.

potatoes

Tomatoes are forming, next to their friends, basil and peppers.

friends include tomatoes, peppers, basil

And then there’s my first squash blossom. I was a bit late putting these guys into the ground, but better late than never, right?

1st squash blossom

While I was visiting my garden, I spotted this gal. Must be I have some aphids somewhere?

miss lady bug

Cute, isn’t she? One more reason to visit your garden early and often. You’ll be treated to a serenity unlike any other. :)

 

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!

More

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!