April 3, 2022
It's been quite awhile since I posted. Life events, catering and family have pulled us in many directions these past months. Our hectic schedules have been overwhelming, but as spring rolls in, returning to our garden gives us a moment to stop and refocus. Our expanded vegetable garden has finally been completed! All the new beds present us with a blank canvas and the opportunity to add a wide variety to our crops this year. The excitement of planning a new and larger garden is truly a healing process, especially for me. It forces me to slow down and get in tune with our little plot of land. I have the joyful task of designing layouts for our plants that will not only enhance their production but also add the the beauty of our potager garden. It is the work I love most.
So, as I begin to think of what vegetables I want to plant, the most important decisions are where to plant them. I am a big advocate of companion planting. Companion planting is growing plants close together so they benefit each other. It's the art of making a garden work for itself. And it is an amazing way to increase production and cut down on work. Once you learn how certain plants help one another it will change the way you garden forever.
The most well known companion planting, and one that I mentioned before (Blog Nov 12, 2020) are the three sisters..corn, squash and pole beans. Each providing an element the other needs; structure, shade, nitrogen. Native Americans knew the benefits of companion planting and we are wise to utilize the method as they did. For example, nectar rich flowers attract pollinators so they are best placed next to crops that need fertilization, zucchini and melons especially. Calendula is an essential flower in my garden because it secretes a sticky substance that attracts and traps aphids. It is perfect planted next to vegetables that tend to fall prey to aphids in particular, especially broccoli. We have cucumbers climb their trellises with nasturtium. Nasturtium give off a scent that repels vine pests. Also we get the added benefits of the delicious leaves and flowers of the nasturtiums, which we add to salads. Not to mention the vines tangled together as they grow create a beautiful wall of color. Another common pairing is tomato and basil. The strong smell of basil repels tomato pests. The old timers have always said that basil planted next to tomatoes enhances their flavor. Some say that is just an old wives tale, I however, will continue to follow that rule as I know it to be true. I also plant marigolds around the tomato beds because they keep the hornworms away! Leeks planted with carrots stop carrot flies from setting up shop and radishes next to zucchini deter squash vine beetles. I also love borage, for its lovely edible blue flowers and it's ability to keep the cabbage worms out of my savoy and purple cabbage patch. Chives are a magnificent border plant for many beds because insects do not like the smell they release. Plus, an abundance of chives and their sweet purple flowers is always a delight.
Besides helping with destructive pests, companion planting is beneficial for replenishing the soil. For example, tomatoes devour nitrogen but beans release it. The same is true for peas. They give off nitrogen that a later season crop like zucchini craves. Planting them together helps restore the balance of the soil which in turn gives a larger yield.
Intercropping, is another aspect of companion planting we employ in our garden. It is the deliberate placement of plants with different growing habits. For example, taller plants like grape tomatoes are planted in beds with leaf lettuce. The shade from the larger plants protects the lettuce which does not tolerate heat well. This method allows us to extend the growing season of certain crops. Arugula is a fast grower, so we intercrop it with a slow grower like collards or cauliflower. It doubles production of a smaller space. This old fashioned method that makes the most of any garden space will increase your crop yield, guaranteed.
So as the planting season begins I hope you try something new in your veggie gardens this year. The combinations of vegetables, herbs and flowers one can imagine is endless...And discovering what works best in your own personal garden is half the fun! Here's hoping we all have an abundance of delicious produce this year to nourish us and to share with our loved ones! Happy Gardening!