11 May 2012

Companion Planting

Welcome to Garden Month!  A full month of posts about gardening in a way that will provide you with the most nourishing food possible, while simultaneously leaving the ground and soil as natural and fertile as possible.  The soil is full of nutrients that plants like to use up.  This is the reason that vegetables, when grown the right way, can be so healthy (by comparison, grocery store vegetables have become far more carbohydrate and far less protein).  When I first learned that some plants withdrew nitrogen from the soil while others put it back in, I started looking at other symbiotic relationships in my garden.  Based on this, I laid out a map of what I plan on growing this year.
Click to embiggen
That brought me to a term called "companion gardening."  Plants can be companions for many reasons.  Some plants are big and tall and provide shade to cool-loving plants, or provide climbing space for vine-plants.  Some plants (like marigolds) chase away pests.  Some provide the nutrients that other plants absorb. 

This is what I based the majority of my companioning on.  The plant guide is extensive and has some helpful hints for deterring pests.  I wasn't planning on planting potatoes this year because my youth is full of memories of handpicking disgusting potato bugs.  However, after reading this, there are a number of plants that can help with that problem.  So now I plan on throwing some cilantro (coriander) and marigolds around amidst the potatoes and we'll see how much of a problem I actually have!

One thing you might have noticed is that the layout is not the traditional row-of-plants, walking-row sequence.  I don't know why, but I had to actually be told that so many walking rows are unnecessary.  To utilize the space more effectively, it makes much more sense to plants things in large blocks of garden bed.  This is my MSPaint rendition of John Jeavons chart showing the ridiculous difference between rows and blocks.
Count 'em up, people.  21 plants in the block bed, 15 plants in rows.
This is the argument behind a 5'x20' bed (although that 20' is highly negotiable) of solid plants.  If you can reach 2.5' to weed and harvest, then planting in rows just doesn't make any sense.  I like that my tomatoes are on the end, because sometimes you don't see a sucker until you look at the tomato from the right angle.  Same with potatoes - if I have potato bugs, I'm going to need to get at those guys.

Another argument for block beds is weeds - if your veggies are thick enough, they'll choke out the weeds.

You also might have noticed that I put my squash and cucumbers right next to each other.  There is a myth out there that says them must be far apart to prevent cross-pollination.  I have read several sites that say this is a myth.  But even if you still adhere to this myth, it's important to note that if cross-pollination occurs, it won't affect this season's harvest.  If you save the seeds, it's possible that you might grow something weird (but this is only going to happen if have maybe two squashes the cross-pollinate).

Another thing you might have noticed is that I have a couple areas where I have interspersed blocks of different veggies.
Here's what's going on.  Let's say I just planted broccoli there.  Broccoli takes a while to reach full size, which means early in the season, there are empty spaces between plants.  Empty spaces in the garden are where weeds grow.  Alternatively, I can plant a fast-maturing plant there and harvest it before the broccoli get big enough to choke everything out.  Double harvest in a single space!  Talk about utilizing your space effectively.

Things get a little crazier when we get over to the onion/carrot/garlic area.  Not only are all of those plants companions, but garlic also chases away many pests.  I'm also going to employ another new technique in this section called multi-planting.  From Jeavon's book, "The concept of the multiplant block is based on spatial rather than linear plant distance in the field. For example, say the average ideal in onion spacing is one plant every 3 inches in rows spaced 12 inches apart. Mutiplants aim at an equivalent spacing of four or five onions per square foot. The difference is that all four onions are started together in one block and grow together until harvest....The onions grow normally in the clump, gently pushing each other aside, attaining a nice round bulb shape and good size."  Benefits:  more onions per square foot.  Only I'm going to intersperse the onions with garlic and green onions too.
Now is where I'm being really crazy.  I've decided to throw some carrots in there too.  If you want to keep a tried and true garden, follow the diagram on the left.  What I'm going to do is try the diagram on the right, and see how much produce I can actually eke out of this square footage.  I will probably only try carrots on part of this bed, because I would like to compare results (and because I actually do want to harvest some onions this fall, I don't want them ALL to fall prey to experiment).

Okay, so there's some info on companion planting as well as a few other planting techniques.  I didn't get too in-depth on this one, so by all means, leave any questions in the comments!

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