I was having a silly moment while browsing Amazon for gardening books. I saw the first part of the title to this book Companion Planting: The Vegetable Gardeners Guide: The Role of Flowers, Herbs & Organic Thinking and wondered if this was about planting a garden with a friend – a companion, or if it was about planting one’s companion. Okay, I said it was a silly moment.
The practice of companion planting has been around for centuries. It is the Grandfather of the modern eco-friendly, going green, organic gardening practices. If you want to avoid using chemical fertilizers and insecticides, then companion planting is for you. Healthy crops will abound when you practice sound companion planting.
This book is a quick read and an excellent introduction to the basic concepts of companion planting.
This type of garden planning and planting is used along with other gardening methods such as container or raised bed gardening. Companion planting is all about teamwork amongst plant. The best virtues of one plant support the other plants. The result is a productive garden without depending on chemical pesticides and herbicides.
Perhaps you’ve noticed gardens with a border of marigolds or some other flower. It’s likely the gardener is practicing companion gardening. In North America, marigolds are the classic companion planting flower. The bright yellow-orange color attracts bees and hummingbirds to the space. These garden friends help with pollination throughout the garden. The marigold also attracts the hoverfly which lay eggs on the plant. The hatching larvae eat aphids which may be on other plants in the area.
The brightly colored marigold livens up the visual aspects of the garden. You can pick a few to add to a colorful bouquet. Zinnias are another favorite plant to border a garden bed.
The premise supporting the topics in Companion Planting is that when planning a garden, you can plant herbs, vegetables and flowers together to create a naturally robust ecosystem which attracts beneficial insects while deterring the less desirable pests. The concept of allelopathy is core to the success of companion planting. This is a process by which the biological chemicals produced by a plant can be beneficial or harmful to other organisms.
For example, in China, rice farmers plant the mosquito fern as a companion to their rice crops. The fern is able to use bacteria within its own system to improve the nitrogen levels of the soil. In fact, it also blocks the sunlight to prevent weeds from flourishing before the rice crop is planted. Once the rice plant seedlings have grown taller than the mosquito fern, they are planted. This happy companion planting was first known to be practiced over 10 centuries ago.
There are also plants which are “martyr plants” attracting harmful insects away from the rest of the garden producers. These flower, herbs or plants become the food for the insects.
Another example of allelopathy is the planting of the trio the “Three Sisters.” The native Indians of North America are accredited for pioneering this method of planting corn, beans and squash together. The corn grows tall providing a support for the climbing bean plant. The bean enriches the soil by adding nitrogen back into it. The nitrogen nourishes all the sisters.
Companion Planting is divided up into eleven main chapters and a summary. The first four chapters introduce the reader to the concepts, history and benefits of companion gardening. The most technical reference is to the concept of allelopathy which was introduced as the system where one plant benefits another either from the way it inhibits pests, fortifies the soil or prevents weeds. When plants benefit another there is allelopathy.
The “meat” of the book lies in the chapters “Plants That Grow Well Together,” “Plants That Don’t Grow Well Together,” and “Beneficial Herbs.” The first two chapters break out the companion plants based upon the vegetable type.
For example, the Cabbage Family companions include; cucumber, lettuce, potato, onion, spinach, celery. Flower and herbs that enhance the flavor of the vegetable are chamomile and garlic. They also add nutrients back into the soil to improve growth.
When planted near the cabbage plants, marigolds and nasturtium attract the sap sucking aphid pest. Basically, these flowering companions end up being “sucked to death” by the aphids. Mint, rosemary and sage can keep away cabbage moths and ants
Don’t plant members of the cabbage family with radishes. They don’t mix. Don’t plant cabbages near bushy plants such as tomatoes. The bushy plant shades the cabbages and stunts its growth.
As with vegetable plants, there are herbs that enhance the flavor of the fruit of a plant or aid the plant by attracting/deterring insects. For example, peppermint is a good companion as it attracts beneficial insects and repels ants, aphids and cabbage fly. Paris covers the best partners for vegetables favored by North American gardeners.
The other primary chapters discuss the “Top 5 Benefits of Raised Beds,” “Top 5 Benefits of Container Gardening,” and “Creating Organic Compost.” Even if you have a large area to work gardening, you’ll benefit from using all of these methods. One of the primary positives shared by raised bed and container methods is that you don’t have to till the hard ground!
You’ll have to get nutrients back into the soil somehow. Some of your beneficial plants will add nitrogen into the soil. The author describes various containers you can use for creating a composting bin. He also describes the basics of composting.
This chapter left me wanting to know more about composting. I would have liked to have more information on what to put in a composting bin, how it turns into compost and how and when to “harvest” the compost to spread on garden beds.
People who don’t know anything about gardening or those who want to move away from dependence on toxic herbicides and pesticides in gardening will enjoy this book. You will also benefit from this book if you are trying to avoid commercially grown products in order to serve healthier foods to your family. Relying on the “organic” label in grocery stores will easily add 50% more to the grocery bill. Instead, you can supplement your fresh produce with vegetables grown in your own garden. This is a good starter guide to companion planting so beginners won’t be overwhelmed with too many charts, tables and biological jargon.
Companion Planting Resource For Vegetable Growers (2nd Edition)
Companion planting, is something that goes hand-in-hand with organic growing methods, raised bed gardening and container gardening; and is something that every gardener should pay close attention to, if they want to get the best out of their crops without having to resort to using chemical fertilizers or pest control methods.
Even if ‘Organic growing’ is not your thing, nevertheless companion planting should still be of interest, as it is all about getting the best out of your vegetable patch with regards to quality and quantity – and usually for very little effort on your part!
UPDATED/EXPANDED VERSION INCLUDING 15 EXTRA PAGES!
Introduction to Companion Planting Vegetables: Find out just what exactly companion planting is all about and how it can help in your efforts to grow healthy organic food for the family.