Companion Planted Gardens are delightful to me. It is a riotous quilt of colors and textures. It does sometimes lead to finding an enormous zuke bat from a plant that was sort of buried in the sunflowers. But it can also lead to perfect produce in harmony with nature.
Last blog, we explored how to hide your food crop with strong smelling herbs. In this blog, I’ll talk about another other strategy to reduce the damage to the whole reason you have a garden – the plants you want to eat. Use fences and/or plants to create a barrier and physically protect your dinner from animals and insects who also wish to dine.
Most basic protection from critters is the garden fence. This is not my garden, but this handcrafted fence caused me to come to a screeching halt and jump out of my car to admire and photograph. Using small trees harvested along the creek, this gardener made a very inexpensive but effective barrier to varmints in her garden. This is lovely and I’m sure effective in keeping critters out.
Another alternative is to grow a living fence. Sunflowers planted along the garden borders protect beans from insects and corn from raccoons who hate the bristly stalks. Sunflowers and zucchini can really be an obstacle to the furry bandits.
Across the street ( Barrier #1) from one of my former gardens was a large, wooded area with a stream that runs all year long where racoons live/thrive/party. When they came to party in my garden, they did a huge amount of damage. So, I tried various strategies to keep them out. All along the edges of the garden, I planted sunflowers two to three layers deep to keep the trash pandas out of my garden. Zucchini plants also have bristles and make very dense plantings to be a further deterrent. They don’t like to get their paws poked and so after a few tries will often go somewhere else.
Pole beans are also growing up these long strong stems. I love this pairing as it means I don’t have to mess with poles and strings, the beans can pretty much grow as tall as they want to which makes picking easier, and the leaves increase the density of the barrier for the masked marauder. Other companions that work well with the natural trellis of sunflowers are peas, cucumbers and other squashes.
Success tip—plant the sunflowers first and let them get around 12”, then plant in your companion plant seeds about 12” away. Make sure there are plenty of nutrients and a regular watering schedule as sunflowers are heavy feeders and will be a bit of a bully about taking care of themselves.
Just a side comment, if you check around you will find that many people say not to plant beans and sunflowers together. Here is my take on that—seeds are inexpensive. Try it in your garden to see if it works. If it doesn’t work for you, then try cucumbers or squash. Or try both. Your garden is your space to experiment. The gardeners’ credo is “Well, next year I’ll try . . . to see if that works”.
The most important thing is to remember to keep notes of what did and didn’t work!!!!
In this year, I planted the sunflower border and then planted a row or two of Zinnias. Zinnias encourage beneficial insects and are lovely cut flowers. I love to plant a handful of these joyful flowers in any empty corner I can find.
Who doesn’t love a fresh cut bouquet from the garden?
Hiding your food crop helps again to confuse the bugs. There is some really good science that shows that landing on an unintended plant will diminish successful egg laying on the food crop. Even showing that multiple wrong landings will discourage the bug from coming back to your food crop! By entangling your crop with taller, bushier, or denser plants the pest is less likely to find a comfy spot to lay eggs which in turn mean less damage to your dinner.
Physically creating a difficult path to landing on the broccoli plant, this mature and flowering fennel does a trained guard dog level of protecting the plant from harm. I’m not a big fan of fennel on my plate, but I love to plant it in my garden as it grows huge, makes lots of flowers to draw in butterflies, and lasts pretty much all summer. There is also dill and parsley intercropped here. The dill has gone to seed so soon there will be more dill, which is a bonus.
The gardens I grew up on were long rows of crops with lots of hoeing efforts to keep down the weeds and bug sprays every two weeks. I’m still drawn to that aesthetic, but I know it isn’t the garden for this day and age.
Very few of us only eat what we grow, like our family when I was a youngen. A few of us can a bit (the Instant Pot is awesome for small canning projects, btw). But mostly we freeze some, eat some, and give away some.
A garden focusing on diversity and companionship is a happy garden full of beneficial insects, no bad chemicals, and tons of beauty. It feeds the soul as well as the stomach.