In our latest Green Guide Series, our novice gardener, Loralie, will share some of the “green” techniques her family will be attempting in their own (and first!) garden patch this year. It’s entirely possible to grow healthier, tastier food without the use of expensive, synthetic, and often toxic pesticides and fertilizers. So put on a big floppy hat, hand your kids a trowel, and join us in her journey!
Today, Day 2, we’ll explain Companion Planting.
Take a walk through a meadow. Do you see rows and rows of the same plants neatly aligned? No! Mother Nature likes things all willy-nilly, and mother always knows best. Natural diversity leads to a balanced eco-system. Companion planting tries to mimic this through the practice of planting different crops together, using the plants’ properties to encourage the health and growth of one another. These properties may aid in nutrient uptake, repelling damaging pests, attracting beneficial insects, or even enhancing the flavor of certain fruits and vegetables. For instance, planting thyme near cabbage can deter cabbage worms. Beans can be your garden’s BFF by improving the overall growth of most all your vegetables. Avoid spending money on synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides and let your garden do the work for you!
You may think bugs are a nuisance, but many insects help by pollinating your plants or by preying on harmful pests. Proper companion planting attracts the good guys and repels the bad guys, while pesticides throw the baby (bug) out with the bathwater. Flowering plants, such as nasturtiums, and strong-scented herbs, like mint, fit the bill for great companion plants.
Plants can complement one another in other ways too. The Three Sisters of Iroquois legend; corn, beans, and squash are popular companions. Corn provides support for the beans to climb on, beans fix the nitrogen in the soil making it more fertile, and squash provides ground cover to shade the soil and prevent moisture loss.
So how do you know which plants go with what your growing? I visit Golden Harvest Organics for their extensive Plant Guide online.
For more in-depth reading, a wonderful primer containing a comprehensive listing of plants and their companions is The Complete Guide to Companion Planting: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Garden Successful by Dale Mayer.
Both sources have proven to be invaluable tools in navigating which plants pair up best.
Children of all ages can benefit from the added sensory experience brought to the garden with your companion plants. The smell of mint deters pests while adding fragrance to your garden. Break up all the green in your garden with splashes of color from chamomile. Hairy nettles, bristly borage, and frilly dill add texture. Not only are these plants helpful, but parts of them are edible, so don’t feel you are wasting space on them in your kitchen garden.
Feel confident that through your natural companion planting efforts, you are feeding your family the very best produce possible. By spending less time worrying about fertilizing and nasty critters, you and your child can spend more time simply exploring the outdoors. After all there are worms to be rescued, and new friends to be made.
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