Informative Mutual Relationships

December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

 By Kyle Brookens

Just like the mutual closed-loop system found in aquaponics between fish, bacteria, and plants, and just like certain species of mycelium assist plants in gathering nutrients, the plants themselves have similar mutual relationships. Specific relationships between different species of plants may improve the growth of one or both and provide protection for one or both. It is like having a personal body guard, both benefit from the relationship; The body guard gets payed and the individual being protected will feel safe in almost any situation. With plants it works the same way, all you need to know is who the enemies are, who the body guard is, and who needs protection. Indeed, even in the plant world there are enemies, some plants will just never get along with other plants, and most plants will never get along with some insects. For this reason, it is quite useful to know who you want to plant next to who, and who might be a good addition to the garden. When two plants exhibit mutually beneficial relationships, where both plants benefit from the relationship, the plants are referred to as companions. When certain plants help improve the growth or provide protection of another plant, they are termed allies. Lastly, when certain plants should not be commingled and grown next to one-another, they are considered enemies.

Companion planting does not only benefit the plants, but benefits the grower by producing greater, better tasting, more nutritious yields. The companions of cabbage are beets, celery, chard, cucumber, lettuce, onion, potato, and spinach. The companions of carrots include beans, lettuce, onion, peas, peppers, radish, and tomatoes. Chard does well when planted next to beans, cabbage, or onions. Cucumbers are paired well with beans, cabbage, corn, peas, radish, or tomatoes. Lettuce, strangely enough, does well with strawberry as a companion, or beets, cabbage, carrots, onions, and radish. Onions tend to grow well with beets, cabbage, carrots, chard, lettuce, peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes. Parsley does well around asparagus, corn, and tomatoes. Peas love beans, carrot, corn, cucumber, radish, and turnips. Peppers do well next to carrots, eggplants, onion, and tomato. Potatoes may be found in good company with beans, cabbage, corn, eggplant, and peas. Radish does well when paired with beans, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, melon, or peas. Spinach is quite picky, and has only two companions of cabbage and strawberries. Squash should be planted amongst corn, Mellon, and pumpkin. Strawberries should be paired with beans, lettuce, onion, spinach, and thyme. Tomatoes grow well and will have an enhanced flavor if planted with borage, asparagus, carrot, celery, cucumber, onion, parsley, and pepper. Most companions will enhance the growth of both plants and enhance the flavor of the produce (Weinmann). From my experience, both sage and small mints tend to do well when planted together. Companion relationships between plants is very useful knowledge to have when growing a diverse, healthy garden, but knowing who the allies are is equally important to ward off pests and parasites .

It is useful to know that the allies of a plant might be more beneficial, because they may help deter pests and parasites. The ally of beets is garlic. Garlic does not deter any pests, but it does improve the growth and flavor of beets. Catnip, hyssop, mint, rosemary, and sage deter the cabbage moth from the cabbage family. Both chamomile and garlic improve growth, flavor, and health of cabbage plants. For carrots, Rosemary helps deter carrot fly and chives enhance growth and flavor. In general, Marigolds deter beetles and nematodes, Oregano deters all pests, and Nasturtiums deter aphids, beetles, and bugs. Nasturtiums also improve growth and flavor of Cucumber. Chives and Garlic both deter aphids, which are both allies of lettuce. Chamomile, summer savory, and sow thistle enhance the growth, health, and flavor of onions. Pig-weed actually draws nutrients from the subsoil and makes those nutrients available to onion. Mint improves the health and flavor of peas. If horseradish is planted at the corners of a potato patch, the potatoes will be well protected from insect infestation. Both Chervil and nasturtiums help radish grow and enhance their flavor. When strawberries are planted next to borage, the strawberries will have a resistance to insects and disease. If thyme is planted along the boarder of the strawberry patch, worms will be deterred. To ward off flies and mosquitoes from tomatoes and to enhance the flavor of the tomato fruit, plant basil next to them. Borage improves the health and flavor of tomato while preventing a tomato worm infestation (Weinmann). These relationships represent few of the many allies that have formed between various plants. Although the enemies of certain plants might be obvious at this point, it is still useful to know which plants just don’t get along.

Most plants tend to do well together, which is why the companion and ally list seem to drag on forever; nonetheless, some plants have natural rivalries. The enemies of beats are pole beans and beats (when planted too close together). As with any plant, if they are planted too close together, they will be competing and ultimately stunt each-others growth. The enemies of cabbage are kohlrabi and tomato. Carrots should never be planted next to dill, for it retarded the growth of the carrots. Peas do not do well when planted with garlic and onion. Never plant radishes next to hyssop. Onions are stunted by peas. Potatoes should never be planted near tomatoes, for they are attached by the same blight. Sage tends to injure cucumber and inhibit its growth. Strawberries hate cabbage. Both corn and tomatoes are attacked by the same worm, and therefore, should not be planted together. Mature dill and kohlrabi inhibit tomato growth. As far as the list of plants discussed here goes, these are about all the negative relationships found between plants.

With this information at hand, anyone from professional agriculturalists to hobby gardeners may realize greater yields, better tasting food, and less damage caused by insects. Granted, some of these relationships may not be ideal (such as herbs that may take over the garden), but if we carefully maintain those relationships, nothing should get in the way of companion planting. This list is by no means complete or exhaustive, but rather, a start to understanding the relationships between different plants that we grow for food. The greater the diversity in any system, the more resilient and productive it will become. Mono-culture should be termed as an outdated form of agriculture, so permaculture may rise and dominate the way people produce food from now on. Nothing has ever stood alone and thrived; every living organism is social out of necessity, so why not capitalize on mutualistic relationships and help each other out? Nobody can argue with a win-win situation.

Weinmann, Todd. “Companion Planting.” Cass County Extension Horticulturist & Master Gardener Coordinator. 15 Sept. 2010. <http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/hort/info/vegetables/companion.htm>. Retrieved 6 Dec. 2012.

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