How to create garden abundance, improve the environment and your FOOD!
Hey family! How’s the garden been growing since our last article on veggie growing last May? Do you have a vibrant thriving garden or is it still a dream left to-do on the “2021 goals list”? In the last article in the Home Sweet Home edition we covered where’s the best place in your yard to grow a garden, how to prepare the soil deeply, feeding your soil, and the very basics on transplanting and wa-tering. Today we are going to explore how to use companion planting to maximize how much you’re getting out of your garden and to create a healthy ecosystem in your garden.
Just like people, some plants get along benefiting each other while others can’t stand each other to the point of hindering each other’s growth! Aromatic plants and herbs such as basil, dill, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme are very useful in deterring many harmful insects and with that helping us to avoid the use of toxic insecticides. Other flowering plants such as marigolds are also examples of aromatics that are real workhorses in the garden keeping bugs at bay. Ideally these should be planted on the edge of your veggie garden.
While Aromatic plants are great for deterring the bugs that want to eat your plants away, flowering plants can attract a variety of beneficial insects. These insects are responsible for pollinating the many vegetables plants that require insect pollination in your garden like squash and beans.
Not all insects are harmful! Some will actually prey on and kill the harmful insects in the garden (nature is incredible, right?!)The flowers of parsley plants for example are highly effective at attracting thousands of these pollinators and are enemies of the pesky insects in your garden too. By allowing one or two of these to flower, and preferably not harvesting the leaves and letting the plant mature, it will put the call out to beneficial insects 24/7 – for free.
Being able to identify between the many insects in the garden is important when creating a healthy, thriving ecosystem which doesn’t rely on insecticides. These beneficial insects feed on the harmful ones so if you go through spraying your garden you will be killing off the “food” for the beneficials too. One more thing to note on insects is that a little insect damage can actually increase yield! So, you should not freak out when you spot your first caterpillar or white fly.
Companion planting can also mean using plants’ physical characteristics in unison to benefit each other. Focusing on the summer, tall plants create useful shade for lower growing plants. Corn and sunflowers can be used to create shade loving plants like squash and cucumbers. You can even try to extend your lettuce season by planting them on the northern side of early planted corn or sunflowers.
Indigenous agriculture systems understood these relationships and have been using them for millennia to grow all their own food. The most well-known of these systems comes to us from the Native Americans and it’s known as “The Three Sisters”. The three being a tall flour corn, pole or bush beans and squash that vine back and forth underneath. This method has several benefits, one of them being the most efficient use of all the solar energy. The sun’s rays first hit the tall corn that doesn’t catch all of it. Below are the beans catching the excess sun and finally the squash are there to absorb the last of the light as they hug the surface of the soil. As a result, minimal solar energy actually hits the soil keeping it cool and moist which all plants enjoy. Using this method in your garden will greatly reduce the amount of water needed while visibly improving the health of your plants.
Using tall and short plants together really increases the amount of veggies that you can grow in a particular space. Instead of having a patch of sunflowers and a separate one of cucumbers they can be planted together allowing you to expand your garden even more.
Lastly, we couldn’t have a veggie article without talking about tomatoes. Planting bush beans and basil in the patch two to three weeks before you plan to plant the tomatoes can really help with your tomatoes growth. The beans help to protect the soil between the tomato plants and the basil actually improves flavor.
We hope that all this talk about using companion planting in the garden has inspired to get out in the garden to get your hands dirty! And while you’re there don’t forget to take time to stop and observe how the plants, insects and even the birds are all working together!
Want to learn more about how you can use sustainable farming methods at home to grow more food with less? To participate in our Sustainable Farming 101 2-day Workshops sign up on our website www.agraliving.org today!
For our how-to videos on the basics of growing a healthy garden visit our YouTube Channel, AgraLiving.
Let’s keep growing together!