My vegetable garden is made up of 12 raised beds. Most are 10 feet by 3 feet except for four that are L-shaped. Those are 10 by 3 with another 4 by 3 "bump-out". My garden is a pretty big one and I dig variety, which takes a bit of a blueprint. My annual plan has become a fun way to start the season, well in advance of warm weather. Seed catalogues in hand, I begin sketching my springtime vision.
So, I should also share that I REALLY like things that are pretty. ALL of my purses have loads of pockets as I am at ease when everything is in it's place. For years, I organized my garden accordingly. Tomatoes in one bed, peppers in another. One bed strictly for herbs. As I began to become a serious gardener and started preserving the foods I grew, efficiency and production became a bigger deal.
Companion planting is gardening smarter, not harder. It is planting different plants in fairly close proximity to one another, to encourage symbiotic or beneficial relationships that increase yields. These relationships can include: pest control, efficiency of space, pollination, providing habitats for beneficial creatures and even replenishing the nutrients one plant depletes from the soil. An awesome concept, but NOT the aesthetically pleasing garden I enjoy. I had to mull it over.
I always gardened organically, but began to read books on the subject and attended some seminars. I kept hearing about "companion" plants. I mainly dabbled at first, taking a look at charts and trying things like setting a few basil plants among the bases of my tomatoes. Finally, I got around to reading Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte. What a great resource! It inspired me to take the plunge and last year, I went all in.
It took a bunch of patience to map out that first year. I made a diagram of my beds and noted which things come up on their own (asparagus and herbs, mainly) then I began to build around that. In the slides above you can see both my 2017 and 2018 maps. There are some changes, mainly due to bed rotations, but overall I was thrilled with the results in 2017 so I'm back at it this year.
Once I finally got everything in the ground that first spring, I was kind of deflated. My garden looked like a hot mess. Not really. It was organized chaos, to be sure, but by the books and charts, it made sense. Everything was planted next to a "friend". What I discovered is that I grew much more food than ever by using this method. I spent less time weeding, less time and money on pest management (a big pain for organic gardeners) and our bee hives were enormously productive, too.
This year, I've got plans to weigh every basket I pull out and get a sense of the weight of food produced. Going forward I will compare annually. What I can say with certainty is this: companion planting filled both my freezers to the brim. My double cabinets that I use to store canned goods were also full (not normally to capacity) and I had to add a third cabinet. If you estimate that each jar of preserved food would cost between $3 & $6 at a grocery store, the 40ish extra jars sure paid off.
If you are planning on planting, why not give #companionplanting a shot? If you go for it, please share your results!
Below is an easy-to use chart to help you get started: one of my favorites.
Elizabeth Morse cooks professionally, is an Advanced Master Gardener and lover of all things local.