prevention

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.

How do you spell easy?

O-K-R-A.   When you think of “easy,” think okra.   Not only is this vegetable easy to grow, it’s easy to maintain, harvest, pair with others, rotate year round.   Why, it literally gets along with everyone!   Low water needs, low nutrient desire, you can’t miss with this one.   Keep in mind that while it’s easy, it does tend toward the slimy and seedy (we’re talking plants here, not people), but to a very low degree, especially when ingested fresh. 

Speaking of easy, the Big Easy loves this baby, packing it into everything from gumbo to etouffe and all things Creole, while southerners have long favored the fried version.   Southerners like most things fried — I know this, because my mother grew up on Georgia cooking and we ate everything from fried chicken to fried plantains (odd, yes, but the family transplanted to Miami as did her culinary preferences).  Fried okra ranks as an old favorite.

My son is a big fan of okra — only lets my mother fry it for him — while my daughter…   She needed a bit of coaxing.   “C’mon, honey.  You can’t crinkle your nose.  You haven’t even tried it, yet!”   Once I convinced her it tastes best fresh from the vine (it’s actually a branch, but it sounds better when you say vine) she agreed, sort of.  I think she was more enthralled with the idea of eating it right from the plant than anything, but as a mother, my motto is:  whatever works

Another reason to include okra in your garden — it’s good for you.  Okra has wonderful health benefits, including vitamin C, calcium and potassium.   But even better, it contains glutathione, an antioxidant and cancer fighter which attacks carcinogens and ushers them away from cells, into the urine, and eventually out of the body.  Studies have shown encouraging signs for the role of glutathione in preventing the development of oral and throat cancers, too.   For more information on the natural health benefits of food in general, check out the book, The Doctors Book of Food Remedies written by Selene Yeager and the editors of Prevention magazine – another favorite of mine.

So this spring, try a round of okra (don’t bother until then, because okra likes it hot) and you’ll be glad you did.   Trust me! 

P.S.  If anyone who resembles the likes of an okra plant tells you to “trust them” – run!