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Companion Planting for Better Harvests and Fewer Pests

May 16, 2012

Growing Your Own Food

Using marigolds as a companion plant

Hopefully, this spring you decided to try your hand (maybe for the first time) at gardening.  We are experimenting with raised beds this year and so far, it seems to be going well.  (If you don’t count the cats and chickens going over the fence and digging in that beautiful soft dirt, that is!).

We put up eight new 4 x 8 frames, filled them with compost and purchased soil, and began planting a couple of months ago.  We are continually appalled at what we hear about factory farming, the GM crops pushing out all others, ongoing dousing of food with herbicide and insecticide, etc. so we want to grow our own food as organically as possible.  Producing food without chemical applications can be a challenge, though.  Here is one of the main ways we try to control pests.

Companion Planting

tomatoes and marigolds

This idea really goes back quite a ways, though the wisdom had been largely forgotten as big companies began peddling their cure-alls in the form of chemicals.  Farmers needed to improve production and reduce competition from insects and weeds to stay afloat in the risky economic world of agriculture, so most jumped on board.  Now, as we are beginning to see glimpses of the consequences, many people have a renewed interest in nature’s own way to combat their six-legged enemies.

The basic idea is to position plants side by side that will camouflage human food from hungry insects.  It usually works by either masking the scent of the desired crop the insect would like to eat or by actually repelling the insects.  One example is planting marigold flowers among your beans.  The biggest pest most people have in their beans is the Mexican bean beetle.  Marigolds have been found to repel them.

Beyond the insect protection, many positive and negative relationships among plants have been identified.  Some food plants grow better and produce larger crops in the presence of other plants or, conversely, do poorly and fail to produce in the presence of others.  In some cases, planting flowers among vegetables draws pollinators which in turn ensures a better crop.

Going back to the bean example, summer savory (an herb) has a beneficial effect on beans.  Beans will grow and taste better when interplanted with summer savory.  And interestingly, it is a very good herb to cook with beans too.  Beans do well planted with carrots, cauliflower, beets, strawberries, and cucumbers also.  When alternated in rows with potatoes, the two are supposed to deter each other’s pests (Colorado potato beetle and Mexican bean beetle).

When beans are interplanted with corn and members of the squash family (the Native American “Three Sisters” method), all three are benefited.  The corn gives pole beans support to climb, the bean vines make it harder for raccoons to strip the corn, and the squash vines shade out weed seeds’ development and keep the ground cooler and moister.  The following year, corn planted in that spot will be even happier because the beans will have added nitrogen to the soil, which corn craves.

Carrots Love Tomatoes

On the flip side, beans do not perform well when planted in close proximity to garlic, onions, or fennel.  Some distance must be left between them in order for both to thrive.  Some plants should not follow others year to year in the same spot.  The main  reason is that the same pests attack both crops and can overwinter in the ground.

Some of my other favorite plant combinations are tomatoes with borage, nasturtium with squash and tomatoes, radishes with squash and cucumbers, and calendula (pot marigold) or yarrow with almost anything.

More information about companion planting can be found online here, here, and here,  but also in a fantastic book called Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte.

Have you tried companion planting?  What have you found the most success with?  Please comment.

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6 Comments on “Companion Planting for Better Harvests and Fewer Pests”

  1. Karen Says:

    Very helpful! Printed it out so I can refer back as I redo my whole garden plan!!!

    Reply

  2. boats 2 Says:

    This site was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that
    helped me. Appreciate it!

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Companion Planting for Better Harvests and Fewer Pests … We are continually appalled at what we hear about factory farming, the GM crops pushing out all others, ongoing dousing of food with herbicide and insecticide, etc. so we want to grow our own food as organically as possible. Producing food . The basic idea is to position plants side by side that will camouflage human food from hungry insects. It usually works . In some cases, planting flowers among vegetables draws pollinators which in turn ensures a better crop. […]

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