Gardening Year

In Winter: Planning Companion Crops

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Winter – the ground is frozen, temperatures are terrifying. In the best case it snows and everything looks peaceful and pretty. But going outside for gardening? No way! Winter season is not a gardening season!

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Ha! You are wrong! Winter time is sooo important for us gardeners. Not only do our perennial plants get their well-deserved recovery break. No, in winter we also lay the foundation for a successful new garden season! As long as it’s cold and nasty outside, it is the right time to sit down with a steaming hot cup of tea and plan the mixed beds for the new season. With the right constellation of veggies in their local conditions, we can provide a successful and plentiful crop at the end of the season.

So get yourself a sheet of paper, a pencil and your seed packages – here you will find information about healthy companion crops and how to dynamically design your vegetable beds!

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What do you mean by companion crops?

The term “companion crops” describes the combination of different plant varieties for realizing a kind of crop rotation in a single season and within a tiny space. Plants have different nutritional requirements and deliver different kinds of so called phytoncides (substances which are emitted into the environment). They help each other to fight parasites and natural enemies and they keep their soil healthy and nutritious.  The right combination of leaf size, growing height and root shape can provide effective protection against dehydration of the soil and overly intense insolation. Ideally, the growth of undesirable wild plants is suppressed. The bed becomes a biocoenosis, which in the best case requires only little care by the gardener and produces healthy and plentiful crops.

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Good partners

The factor which is most easily understood and taken advantage of is the shape of the plants. Above ground, leaves and fruits of plants always have enough space. There is plenty of room for ventilation and plants do not steal sunlight from each other. Under the ground it is important to have a look at the different kinds of roots growing near each other – you should combine shallow-rooted plants with deep-rooted plants and plants with above-ground fruits with below-ground bulbs or beets. The roots need enough space for growing to build strong and efficient plants.

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Examples of good companions

Carrot – Onion: Onion deter carrot flies, carrots deter onion flies – a dream team!

Cress – radish: companionship of cress and radish makes the aroma of radish more intense. Also, the quickly germinating radish makes a good range marker for plants like carrots with longer germination periods.

Savory – beans: Nome nest omen: savory – “bean herb” in German – protects beans from lice.

Nasturtium – fruit trees: plant lice love nasturtium! That’s why you can use nasturtium as a natural “lice trap” underneath fruit trees and any other plants you may want to protect from the voracious lice.

Strawberries – garlic: Snails avoid the smell of garlic. So if you plant some garlic bulbs between your strawberries, you’ll have a lot less trouble with fretted strawberries in the summer. My vegan gardening tip: separate the outer range of strawberries with a dense range of garlic and leave these strawberries to the snails.

Cabbage – peppermint: small cabbage white butterflies don’t like any sort of intense aroma. That’s why you can keep them away from your cabbage by surrounding the plants with aromatic herbs like salvia, peppermint or thyme.

Cabbage – tagetes, nicandra: Tagetes and nicandra are able to keep away white flies from your cabbage.

More:

  • Potatoes – corn, chamomile, tagetes, spinach, kohlrabi, runner beans
  • Cucumber – beans, onion, beetroot, leek, peas
  • Kohlrabi – potatoes, radish, salad, beetroot
  • Salad – dill, carrots, strawberries, kohlrabi, radish
  • Zucchini – corn, nasturtium

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Bad neighbours

There are many plant compositions which are mutually beneficial to each other. Which one works best depends on many factors and every gardener has to earn this experience in his own garden. The combination of plants also depends on the aesthetic preferences of the gardener. But there are a few plants which won’t work together at all. Bad neighbours are:

Salad – parsley

Beans – onion, peas, fennel

Cabbage – onion, strawberries, potatoes

Tomatoes – peas, cucumber, potatoes

Potatoes – sunflowers, tomatoes

Cabbage – mustard seeds

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Draft a planting plan

It can be helpful to draw up a plan of your plants and where you want to put them. This way you can create the perfect combination of plants and later on you will always be able to recollect exactly where you’ve planted which seeds. The plan I drafted is not scaled properly, but it shows all my beds and planting spots. I prepared a template with the beds and the greenhouse which are fixed and then I redo the combination of crops every year. I choose different colors for different veggies and harvesting periods. Of course you can create your very own system, but let me show you the raw version of my plan for a little inspiration.

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You‘re still longing for more information about symbiotic relationships between plants and their effects on each other? Then stay tuned, I am working on another article in which I’ll explain the principles of allelopathy and phytoncides further!

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