One of the most important parts of organic gardening is pest management. I'm currently working on planning the garden out at GMS. Since ...

Gardening Series: Companion Planting

One of the most important parts of organic gardening is pest management. I'm currently working on planning the garden out at GMS. Since I won't be here, and garden care is likely to be minimal, I'd like to set it up to minimize damage from pests.

There are a few different ways to manage pests in the garden. I'm going to be relying on companion planting to take care of a lot of the pests while I'm away.

When I first started gardening, I wondered why anybody would waste any space on flowers. It turns out, flowers are a vital part of both pest management and the encouragement of pollinators. There are a few flowers that seem to be particularly beneficial, including nasturtiums and marigold.

Flowers work in a lot of ways. Some flowers attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, that eat pests in the garden. Others act as sacrificial plants attracting the pests away from your vegetables, like nasturtiums for aphid management. Others, like marigolds, actually repel pests naturally.

I have always understood the value of herbs—they're a delicious addition to most meals and we use them in a lot of sauces and dressing. Fortunately, they're also spectacular for pest management.

However, some herbs don't jive with some plants. For example, chives can retard growth of spring peas. Other herbs help plants thrive: the classic tomato and basil combination can increase tomato productivity, and chives help carrots taste sweeter.

When planning a full garden, there are a lot of combinations to consider. I'm trying to approach the problem systematically.

Most plants can be grouped into families, which helps with companion planting. For example, brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, etc.) work well with the allium family (onions, garlic, chives, shallots, etc.). I've made a few general combinations (nightshades + mint family, brassicas + alliums) and plan to plant these into individual beds.

I've been trying to place flowers throughout the garden, as well as some generally beneficial, although less common, herbs. I've tried to leave spaces for: marigolds, lovage, borage and nasturtiums.

For the actual layout of the garden, I've been using Google Drive's spreadsheet. Our GMS garden is going to be 30' x 30' so I made a spreadsheet with 30 cells by 30 cells and dedicated each one to a square foot. I've been numbering all of the different plant varieties; after re-sizing the cells to be square, I can fill in the squares with plants and walkways.

We still have a lot of work to do—the area isn't tilled, and the seeds aren't really started yet. I have a feeling everything won't get planted in time in such a large garden, but with some sense of layout, hopefully things get planted in generally the right place!

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