Spending time in the garden and observing nature at work makes you understand how everything in your garden is communicating and assisting each other.
Ancient farmers who were blessed with this wisdom discovered certain combinations of plants, that, if grown together, thrive better and some plants that do not like to be grown close to each other. Modern farmers who are reverting to organic and chemical-free farming methods consider this an essential practice.
How Companion Planting works
There is something deeply mystical about how plants like and dislike certain plants. Naturally, plants are attracted to others of their kind.
Each plant has its own special quality that can benefit other plants in growing. This match making of different species not only makes for a flourishing garden but also creates a colourful landscape.
These plants can be grown together for several reasons, including soil fertilisation, pest control or to attract beneficial insects. The biggest benefit of companion planting is that it doesn’t build a monoculture like in big fields that grow only one type of crop – which allows pest and disease buildup.
Some of the benefits of companion plantation include:
– Creating a colourful display
– Attracting beneficial insects
– Repelling harmful insects and predators
– Attracting birds that prey on unwanted bugs
– Inviting pollinators
A good example of companion plantation is that of tomatoes and marigolds. The scent of marigolds deters the white fly that attacks tomatoes. On the other hand, planting nitrogen-fixing ground covers like fenugreek or legumes fertilises soil for crops that need high nitrogen in soil.
Some of the most useful combinations
I have always incorporated companion planting techniques in my organic gardens. These combinations always work for me.
-Brassicas, dill and onions
While growing any type of brassicas such as cabbages, broccoli or others from the same plant family, make a border of dill or onions around the patch or grow onions in between two rows of cabbages. A strong scent of onions will confuse cabbage pests and dill will attract some of the bugs and keep the cabbage protected.
– Sweet corn, pumpkin and beans
This combination of plants is called the ‘three sisters’ and is quite effective. Beans are natural nitrogen fixers and need support to grow. Corn, on the other hand, is a high nitrogen feeder and has a strong stalk. Shallow rooted pumpkin or any type of squash vine creates living mulch around the other two sisters and keeps the soil protected from weeds and predators. Amazed?
The ‘three-sisters’ growing method is centuries old and it provides a balance combination of nutrition as well.
– Beans and potatoes
Now this is my favourite combination for pots. I grow potatoes in containers and along with those I plant bean vines. Potatoes need lots of nitrogen to grow healthy foliage that will support the roots and in return give you healthy large potatoes!
I have grown all kinds of beans but a Saim or lab-lab bean has given me unbelievable produce from a container.
– Tomatoes, chives and basil
It almost sounds like a perfect mix of ingredients for an Italian meal and that is, probably, the best part about it. This combination never fails. Chives are another herb that smell like garlic or onions. Planting a border or just a couple of plants alongside your tomatoes does wonders. You can always replace this with garlic or onions but I personally feel that chives are much more effective. Basil invites pollinators for tomato flowers. And tomatoes, in return, provide good shade for both of these herbs.
The best part is that when you are ready to harvest tomatoes, you can pick fresh and organically grown herbs to make your delicious pasta sauce!
Now, these are my favourite companion plants, but I have tried and tested some other combinations too. There are many more for each plant.
Some of the plants that should not be grown together include
– Dill and carrots: it makes the carrots woodier and makes dill lose its flavor.
– Beans and peas with chives or garlic
– Potato with pumpkin or squash
Make the most of your space
Besides all the benefits discussed earlier, companion plantation also encourages intercropping which makes use of the space most effectively. Growing fast-growing radishes with comparatively slow-growing carrots give you a bonus crop. In the same way, if you grow some herbs like basil, chamomile and lavender around the garden, it will become host for pollinators and also give you an additional supply of herbs for cooking or for medicinal purposes.
Before you begin and bring a revolution in to your garden by planting these companions plants, experiment on a small scale! See what works for you. I feel, one major way for this kind of planting to be successful is to use heirloom seeds that store all the natural qualities of the plants – unlike the hybrids and GM seeds.
Try to be as close to nature as possible when going organic and you will see the results soon!
Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk