If only someone had told me there was a book that actually showed you how to grow plants together to get more food and fewer bugs. If only someone had shown me a guide that thoroughly examines relationships between different veggies, explaining in alphabetical detail which one likes that one and which won’t give the other the time of day (or sun or shade or nitrogen). If only…oh wait—someone did! Our friendly neighborhood bookseller knows I’m both a food person and a person-who-grows-food-person and keeps an eye out for texts on related topics. When I mentioned something about crops I’d been attempting to get into trouble, I mean, dirt, he said the magic words: “Do you know Carrots Love Tomatoes?”
I do now!!!
For those of you who haven’t already devoured it*, Louise Riotte’s classic guide to the “secrets of companion planting for successful gardening” made my day (and hopeful my future harvests). Since I began expanding our backyard homestead with more planters in many styles, I also created a larger universe of possible polycultures. As recommended by many organic gardening experts, I already eschewed bland, bug-attracting rows of similar stuff and instead interwove species in varying ways. Until I read Ms. Riotte’s nifty primer, though, I’d relied on instinct to select the combos–not exactly the scientific method but not to be entirely pooh-poohed either. As it turns out, some of my unwitting pairings worked well (cabbages and onions), others, such as pod peas and scallions, not so much.
Furthermore, it’s not only about what you plant but how often and where. Many gardeners know that plunking down the same thing in the same spot year after year doesn’t work or, if it works, only to the degree that you have to add copious artificial inputs or endure smaller yields. Crop rotation isn’t merely for capital “f” Farmers, it’s useful for backyard, small “f”-style growers, too. Plus, it’s not enough just to consider your broccoli’s Facebook history–you also have to think it forward. Veggies leave nutrient trails in the soil and both the insects and diseases that prey on them may leave shortcuts to next year’s menu as well. You can mitigate some of these predations by thoughtful planning from season to season, year to year.
I’d like to say that all this explains my disastrous outcomes last summer–non-existent tomatoes and wizened cucumber– but sheer ineptitude cannot be ruled out. Not only did those poor wannabe dinners succumb to stagnant air, over-watering, under-fertilizing and other forms of neglect, now I realize I did nothing to promote their social life either. Plants don’t just want me to talk to them anymore, they’d like to hang out with their own veggie friends.
Seen any good carrots lately?
* Not bad with a little hot sauce.
“Bob’s Basics: Companion Planting” by Bob Flowerdew; Skyhorse Publishing; New York, NY; 2012.
Copyright 2013, Lori Fontanes