Companions or Antagonists? A Complete Guide to Companion Planting
I have some exciting news to share... I am officially a recurring blogger over at Heirloom Gardener's online blog! Aaaaah! You know, even on the dark days where I feel like I am shouting to the masses, saying things that no one cares about at all, it's those little moments and whispers from our readers that say, "Keep going... I like what you are doing..." that can keep you trudging on. I will not lie to you, this winter has been a tough one for me. The days have not been solemn and grey as they usually are; instead I have just been waiting for spring to arrive, to get back outdoors and continue to work alongside my plants, photograph our experiences, and write more about homesteading on a small amount of land. Winter time makes me overthink everything and can put my thoughts ahead of where they need to be along with focusing a lot of attention on how much farther ahead others are than me in this journey. For those of you reading this and wishing you were where we currently are at, let me tell you, you will get there! I still love learning every single day about how we can continue to live this life as sustainably as possible.
Which brings me to today's blog post on companion planting. This was one of the gardening practices that I instantly latched onto for our garden last year. It's what I consider our biggest success when it came to keeping our plants healthy and thriving. I planted our entire garden at the Little Homestead with companion beds, which I think helped so much and is something that I hope to continue to practice (though it will most likely not be as haphazard as last year since we have to grow max numbers and not just for fun!). I am excited to dive in and teach you exactly what companion planting is and hopefully clear up any confusion around the topic. Sometimes this topic can be confusing. I also have a companion and antagonist plant chart at the end for you to download for free!
What is Companion Planting?
The art of companion planting is done when you intermix plants among rows to create diversity amongst your plantings and also allow the plants to help each other out. For instance, if you plant basil next to your tomatoes, the basil will flavor the tomatoes. Isn't that fascinating? There's also the great trick of planting beans next to plants that need more nitrogen such as carrots, squash, or corn. Most herbs and flowers can help keep insect pests away and are always a great choice to try and plan ahead for so that you don't have to do much pest maintenance. Companion planting is also a basic cultural control tactic for IPM, or Integrated Pest Management. I have talked about this practice before in my post on pesticides and what they really do. In short, IPM is taking all necessary precautions in the early planning stages of your garden to prevent insects and plant diseases from entering the garden at all. I learned this after I companion planted our garden and had the time to analyze if my garden's diversity was really the trick for why our pest populations were rather low.
We still definitely had pests! I had a pretty bad time last year with squash bugs and cucumber beetles, but I also think that it could have been a lot worse for someone who sprayed absolutely nothing other than a bit of Castile soap and essential oils in the spring.
How Do You Do It?
After reading so many different sources, there really aren't many places that tell you exactly how to companion plant... Rather they write in theory. They say, "interplanting your vegetables, blah, blah, blah." Right? Last year, I kind of just winged whatever interplanting meant. As you can see above, this is a decent overview of my onion and potato beds. I planted a section of onions and next to that a few rows of radishes, summer savory, and lemon balm. Now... I did more of what is called square foot gardening without even realizing it. I planted each with the correct row measurements all boxed together in marked out beds. This worked great! If you like how this looks, then I say do it. You can also see the bed behind the onions has potatoes, then rosemary, then cosmos, and marigolds. Is this interplanting? Mmm... not really. Interplanting would be if I had every single row as something different. A short row of onions, then radishes, onions, radishes... sort of like an AB pattern. There are quite a few companions you can do this with including radishes and carrots, or tomatoes and carrots. These are usually done to make room in the soil for slower growing vegetables or shade ones that don't love full sun.
"Companion planting is the growing together of all those elements and beings that encourage life and growth; the creation of a microcosm that includes vegetables, fruits, trees, bushes, wheat, flowers, weeds, birds, soil, microorganisms, water, nutrients, insects, toads, spiders, and chickens." John Jeavons
I made this nifty little chart with a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers on it to help you learn which plants are considered companions and which are antagonists, or plants that don't enjoy being planted next to each other. This can be for many different reasons such as putting certain nutrients in the soil that are detrimental, over-shading, or unpleasant flavoring. If you'd like, you can also download these pages as a printable PDF. Click the button below to grab that download!
This practice is incredibly easy to do, and you can create all kinds of different planting patterns throughout the years. The combinations feel somewhat endless! I will always highly recommend companion planting as a tactic to keep your insect pest and disease levels down. Diversifying your garden is one of the smartest things you can do for your plants to gather an incredible harvest and watch your plants flourish.