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Companion Planting

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Companion planting is a staple in permaculture design, and a term being used a lot in gardening circles these days.


But what is companion planting exactly? How does it work? Why is it important?



First of all, companion planting is the planting of various symbiotic species of plants in a close proximity. It is a method that has been practiced for thousands of years worldwide, but is again gaining notoriety due to failing monoculture farms around the globe. The plants benefit each other in several different applicable ways.


To give you an example of the most simple (yet ancient) known method of companion planting, we will talk about the Native American "Three Sisters" planting.


This is a method in which almost all of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica knew. It was allegedly gifted by the Gods, and practiced justas long as the practice of farming. It has been known for at least 8,000 years, and is more effective than any synthesized growing aids formulated by our society.


Basically it is the consecutive sowing of squash, corn, and bean seeds in a square foot area. The squash plants grow large and low to help shade the soil, protecting the roots of the beans and corn from drying out. The beans then fix the nitrogen in the soil for the nutrient hungry corn plant. The corn stalk in turn provides and excellent place for the beans to climb.


This is the idea of plant symbiosis in a nutshell.


There are plenty more reasons for companion planting. As shown in the above example, simple shading can help plants flourish. Trees are a great companion plant for protecting sensitive plants from the sun's extreme heat in summer.




The most important reason for companion planting in my opinion, is natural pest control! There is no gardener on Earth who hasn't dealt with one "pest" or another at some point.


Tests have been done and in turn proven that when gardens have consistent ground covering plants there are far less invasions of damaging insects. You can sow "Decoy Plants" to help protect some of your more cherished crops.


Essentially, pests prefer to have quick and easy access to the host plant they have evolved to consumed. When there are too many other types of plants nearby, bugs don't readily spread their species as there won't be enough food.


This is why monoculture farms do not make sense! When you have nothing but cabbages on continuous acres, it is nothing short of a glutenous feast for root flies.

Some plants are actually known for actively deterring pests as well! Garlic has been used for centuries to keep aphids away from tomatoes and brassicas. This is due their pungent aroma, which personally I have no problems with. Marigolds also work very well in this regard.



The only reason "pests" exist is because of improper planting techniques. There is no pest that can't be mitigated by companion planting. In Sepp Holzer's Permaculture the author even gives a method of guarding fruit trees' roots from ground voles through companion planting near the base!




Countless definitive companion planting charts exist, so I will refrain from creating one at the present time. However, I believe humans are only now beginning to understand all the working relationships of different species. Some companion planting actually has detrimental effects, and so some caution must be utilized when creating mixed gardens.


Nevertheless I hope i have properly imparted the importance and power of cultivating symbiotic companion plants in your garden.


 

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