Here’s a couple ideas for ‘companion gardening’ this year! Mix up the monoculture in your garden for a better, all natural success rate!
French marigolds produce a natural chemical called alpha-terthienyl that inhibits the growth of nematodes and prevents their eggs from hatching. Carrots that are forked like fingers, have little tunnels drilled through them, or along their length are all deformed by nematodes. In trials, the ‘Single Gold’ variety of tagetes patula (French marigold) produced the highest amount of alpha-terthienyl and had the greatest success rate in reducing nematode infestation. Planting French marigolds near root crops like potatoes, beets, and carrots will help protect their roots. Even tomatoes grown with French marigolds resulted in little or no root gall caused by nematodes, and therefore produced heavier crops. The newer marigold hybrids have lost this chemical, so stick with the old heirlooms.
Native Americans referred to the companion planting of squash, beans, and corn as the ‘The Three Sisters.’ Corn is a big consumer of nitrogen, the nutrient needed to help corn grow tall. The oxygen we breathe has nitrogen in it, but plants can’t absorb the nitrogen! That’s where beans come in! Beans are in the legume family, and all legumes have this amazing ability to suck down nitrogen through pores in their leaves and into the ground where bacteria in their roots ‘cook’ the nitrogen into something that the plants can actually eat! So planting beans (or any legume) will help feed both the beans and corn. Tall stalks of corn additionally support pole beans to attach to.
Add in squash (the ‘third sister’) and the trio is complete. Squash creeps and crawls across the ground and will grow large leaves on vines that twine throughout the corn stalks. The leaves prevent evaporation and keep the ground cool and moist. Squash leaves also double as ‘living’ mulch, preventing weed seeds from sprouting. The prickly hairs on the leaves will also help deter pests like rabbits and slugs.
There are many other combinations as well that work for one reason or another. For instance, asparagus will repel nematodes that normally like to attack tomatoes, and conversely, tomatoes repel nasty little beetles that attack asparagus!
Dill, cilantro, and borage attract ladybugs and lacewings which love to eat all those pesky bugs. Plant in between your vegetables! Try ‘Trap Cropping’ too. This means growing plants that will draw bad bugs away from your precious plants and onto them. Nasturtiums are great for this! I’ll have lots of aphids on my nasturtiums and none on the neighboring eggplants! And the dill nearby hosts the ladybugs to eat the aphids! How cool is that?