As a gardener, I'm among those who believe that much of the evidence of God's existence has been planted.
~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com
Here in Massachusetts the magnolia and cherries trees are blooming in full swing and daffodils are everywhere. The past few days have been surprisingly warm and pleasant... though I am sure the New England weather will hold some surprise for us yet. It tends to do that.
So in my ever-continuing attempts to figure out ways to improve my harvest (and reach my goal of 134 pounds in food!), I've been doing some thinking. Last year I planted a bunch of herbs together on tiered planters. They did amazingly well... that is, most of them. The basil was just incredible, making two large batches of pesto. The rosemary and thyme really did well. So did the chives. But the parsely and mint which I planted right next to each other did terribly! Both of them got stunted, some of the leaves got discolored, and they both got pests... badly. They did not look like healthy plants, by any means! My first thought was perhaps they didn't have enough light (I was growing them on our fire escape). Or maybe the pot was too small. Not enough nutrients? Yet how did the other herbs do so well in the same pots?
That is when I began reading more about companion planting. You've probably heard of the classic "three sisters": corn, beans, and squash. All good companions. The corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb on, the beans provide nitrogen for the heavy nitrogen-feeding corn, and the squash shades the ground at the root of both the corn and bean, by providing a good ground cover and taking advantage of the light at ground level.
And guess what? According to several sources, mint and parsley appear to be enemies! They are bad companions.
If a pair of plants are bad companions or incompatible with each other, there could be several reason for it. Bad companions could be plants that use the same nutrients (so compete and stunt each other's growth), plants that have naturally herbicidal effects on others, plants that attract a disease or bug that kills the other, plants with root structures that compete or strangle the other, etc... None of which you want to have if you can help it! On the other hand, good companion plants can improve growth, flavor, or health of other plants, attract beneficial insects, repel pests, fix nutrients for the other plant into the soil, provide ground cover, etc.. It's probably important to note that companion planting is not an exact science. Meaning, a carefully planned garden might not actually yield more or better tasting produce or protect it from all ills. Yet, then again, it might. Essentially, the most important thing is to observe and see what your plants are doing in your own garden environment, then adjust.
So, I figured that for my tiny 3rd floor apartment garden, it might be a good idea to take note of classic bad and good plant combinations. Cause if it saves me from loosing my parsley/mint harvest, that might be crucial (in the end) for reaching my weight in food! Several dozen grams at the very least! Ok, maybe not crucial, but in a sense, every gram counts here. But just maybe, if all goes well, it might improve my harvest. And that is what my goal is.
Here's a list of a few companions I'm going to try to be aware of for my containers this year (and keep you updated if they work):
basil and tomatoes
bell or sweet Peppers and green/bundle onions
potatoes and bush beans
cucumbers and dill
onions, spinach, and strawberries
Bad Companions (Do not plant together!):
beans/peas and onions (allium family)
marigolds and beans
dill and carrots
potatoes and cucumbers
sage and onions or cucumbers
In the long run, all these are hard to keep track of! So if worse comes to worse, try something, make note of it to see if it works, and try again. You never know...you might just discover an amazing combination.
There are some fun resources out there for companion planting. Google "companion planting". Look it up online, and check out books from a local library!
Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louis Riotte
Good Neighbors: Companion Planting for Gardeners by Anna Carr
Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham
Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening Companion Planting by Susan McClure and Sally Roth
Basic List of Companion Plants -- http://www.companionplanting.net/ListofCompanionPlants.html
More Extensive List of Companion Plants -- http://www.ghorganics.com/page2.html
And my balcony garden so far... not much to look at yet, but it will be!