Garden Guide: Companion Planting
Categories: Ecology & Sustainability Food & Nutrition
This was the year—finally—that I got more serious about planting my garden. During earlier attempts, I’d taken a fairly lazy, noncommittal approach: container-planting herbs here and there, buying a fruit tree, or starting squash seedlings. Despite my valiant efforts, the squashlings made it all of two months, and my herbs were a victory short-lived after my cat discovered he has an omnivorous palate and ate all my basil.
So as this spring rolled around, I vowed to do the thing properly; but with limited space, I needed to plan carefully, with efficiency in mind. Companion planting was invaluable in this regard: by learning which plants naturally enrich each other, I was able to economize space while ensuring each’s health and stability. I’m happy to report that everything seems to be taking care of itself: The vegetables are thriving, my wicking bed requires minimal intervention, and I’ve started to attract a healthy number of bees. I set out with tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, strawberries, and basil, but there are so many great combinations to try out.
What Is Companion Planting?
Companion planting refers to the process of growing plants that work well together, enhancing each’s health, pollination, and even resistance to pests. It’s the buddy system of growing food, and a tenet of the biodynamic approach to gardening; a classic example is the Three Sisters (beans, corn, and squash). Native Americans learned, over a period of thousands of years, that co-planting these vegetables was advantageous to each: The beans climb on the corn and nitrogenate the soil, while squash grows close to the ground, creating a moisture-rich microclimate and preventing weeds from getting in the way. But there’s a lot more to learn; here’s an introduction inspired by Wolf Storl’s Culture and Horticulture and his new title, A Curious History of Vegetables.
What Is Biodynamic Gardening?
Biodynamic gardening, like organic gardening, is ecologically-oriented and relies on a plant’s natural behavior; as Storl, gardener extraordinaire, notes, biodynamic gardening ensures “healthy soil for healthy plants for healthy humans and animals.”
Where biodynamic and organic gardening diverge is in the former’s more holistic approach: It considers the sun, moon, planets, and subterranean features to understand the totality of all features and tap into the deeper spirit of nature. By intensifying natural processes, like creating enhanced environments for animals and bees, tailoring bespoke compost mixes, and companion planting, the biodynamic gardening approach is truly a “human service to the earth and its creatures, not just a method for increasing production or for providing healthy food.” So if you’re looking to take your garden to the next level, now’s the time; here are some classic pairings, as provided by Storl.