(Photos all from our allotment plot 18a)
It’s a jungle out there in the world of allotmenteering. The whole world and his slug is after our precious little vegetables. Down 18a it’s our policy to try to be as organic as we possibly can be (before it breaks your heart). We don’t use bug sprays or artificial fertilisers and most importantly no weed killers. It can be tough, harvests small compared to our weedkiller-bottle-trigger-happy plot neighbours. However in our corner one thing has our backs covered, and that’s companion planting.
For an organic vegetable grower companion planting is an invaluable weapon in the war against pests and diseases. Companion planting is the “technique of growing plants in close proximity with the aim of benefiting at least one of them”. I totally love companion planting, I’m hooked. It’s fun to experiment with various combinations of flowers, herbs and vegetables. They may not always work out but they sure make the plot look pretty! Attracting in pollinators and friendly useful bugs to the plot with their nectar rich flowers. Blue Cornflowers, orange Calendula, wispy purple Nigella, perky Poached Egg-Plant and a carpet of orange, red and yellow nasturtiums; if all else fails it’s a feast for eyes.
Disguise and subterfuge is the name of the game with companion planting. It’s not a magic cure. More like a herbal supplement if you will, in that some people find them beneficial whilst others it doesn’t make the blind bit of difference. Some plants help disguise a vulnerable crop from pests and some may repel pests or diseases. Something well worth experimenting with. What have you got to lose? At the very least all those flowers growing side by side with veggies make for a colourful plot.
The list of possible companions is huge. Most in the reality of the vegetable patch are just impossible to work with but here are some of the combinations of companions that we’ve had success with or have been experimenting with:
Chives grown with carrots is a classic companion, reputed to help keep those dastardly destructive carrot fly at bay. I’ve not had too much success with this, my thinking is that you probably need to sow your chives and carrots in very close proximity or even mix the seeds. One major problem with using chives with carrots is with chives being perennial and carrots and annual vegetable. Not ideal for planning your rotation, unless you treat the chive like an annual. One use of chives we’ve had huge success with is with our roses. Sown around the edges of their pots, it’s kept our roses aphid free!
Nasturtiums with pretty much everything! Nasturtium galore down the plot at the moment. They’ve pretty much gone native, self seeding everywhere. By mid summer they become a bit of nuisance at times, despite our best efforts to munch through the flowers they need to be tamed! Despite this in moderation they provide an excellent groundcover for an unused bed, act as fodder crop distracting blackfly/butterflies from crops and most importantly the bumblebees adore them (and it’s all about the bees).
Poached Egg Plant (Limnanthes douglasii) Not really companion plant for pest or disease resistance but one I like to use as ground cover and a pollinator and aphid eater attractor. Sown around and under Courgettes and Squashes attracts in homey bees, hover fly and all sorts of beneficial bug life.
Pot marigolds (Calendula) My favourites. Their so jolly and smell of childhood summers, picking seed heads and scattering them around my fathers garden. Their magic little flowers, edible, a natural dye, attractive to pollinators and an excellent companion plant. We’ve had good results using Calendula’s to keep the Brassica arch-enemy, the white fly at bay. If planted close to Brassica and kept flowering the Calendula send a chemical into the neighbouring Brassica that is unpalatable to the white fly and they move on! However soon as you let them die back those pesky white fly just move right back in.
Radishes with cucumbers. This a funny one but one that’s worked for us. radishes are reputed to boost cucumbers disease resistance, something we’ve played with to some success. Keeping cucumber mosaic virus at bay and helping to shade the base of the plants to conserve moisture.
Tagetes Tagetes and French Marigold are companion planting superstars. Repelling all sort of nasites from your vegetables both above and below ground. Best buddies with tomatoes, broad beans and squashes. It’s also reputed that they have lasting benefit to the soil releasing a chemical that is disliked by baddy nematodes and soil borne slugs. Not only that but it’s effects have been known to last several seasons. Some say that Mexican Marigolds also are effect for eradicating Bindweed, something I’d love to test out some time.
Other notable are Nicotiana with Brassica’s as an excellent repellent for Cabbage Whites.
A comprehnsive list of companion planting : http://www.ghorganics.com/page2.html
Wikipedia list of Companion Planting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants