Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.
Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…
One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:
Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean. So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil. A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:
Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies. Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips. Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more. In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!
Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:
Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!
Container gardeners, you can do this too! The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.
I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.
1. Think Permaculture Zones – The concept is simple, put the stuff you use most, or need to access most often, closest to your house. Put the stuff you don’t need to access much farthest away. So, herbs in easy access from the kitchen and fruit tress farther away since you only need to tend them a few times a year and harvest when the fruit is in season.
2. Maximize how you use your space – Layers are a good way to look at using your annual garden space to its maximum potential. Roots grow down, bushy plants like tomatoes are in the middle layer and vines like cucumbers and pole beans can climb.
3. Mix it up – Not sure what will be successful, try a mix of a small raised bed, a few plants in the ground and a few containers. Try the same type plant in each and see what works best for you.
There are many factors to consider when planning your garden, but here are three basic ones to get your started:
1. What do you like to eat. If you grow something you like to eat, and want to eat, you’ll be more motivated to take care of it, which translates into a more successful garden
2. How much space do you want to use. I tell people to start small even if you want to transform your entire property into food production. If so, do a whole property design, but then prioritize what order you want to create each area in. You can have it all, but take it a chunk at a time
3. How much light do you have in the space you want to use. Really knowing how much light you have in each area is critical to successful garden design, especially if you want sun loving plants like tomatoes and berry bushes for example. Cool weather crops that like shade in summer are easier because you have more options if you have shady areas. Knowing how much sun you have in each area of your space allows you to be more successful and not waste time trying to grow something that needs at least 6 hours of sun in a place that doesn’t get over 3 hours. Be realistic and grow what you can be successful growing, your rewards will be greater.