February 27, 2011

Radishes Love Carrots, Really!

Pot-o-lettuce planted with pansies
 I love you not because of who you are, but because of who I am when I am with you ~ Roy Croft

Love abounds in the month of February. I can only exclaim my elation at skipping into March (love notwithstanding) just one jump closer to being able to plant seeds. But musing on the idea of companionship, the question rolling around in my head is, “How can I plan my garden around veg that like certain neighbors?” It’s called interplanting.

Companion planting pivots around consideration of root patterns, growth habits, and heights. Identify plant differences and use this diversity to your advantage.  Three garden plan strategies are: 1) grow together because of each others’ root patterns; 2) grow together because leafy tops enjoy the same dance; and, 3) grow together because robust top growth brings shade that other plants love.
A lone rose watches over newly planted lettuce

First, vegetables that like to be together because of root growth patterns are: beans like carrots, celery, corn, cucumbers, onions, radishes. Corn prefers lettuce and potatoes. Kohlrabi loves beets. Spinach can grow between rows of onions. A Madison County gardener recommends, ”I always interplant radishes between my carrot rows. The radishes sprout quickly and provide a microclimate for the sprouting carrot seeds. Radish tops hold the remay off of the tender little carrot seedlings and radishes are harvested before the carrots need the space to grow…twice the harvest in half the space.”
Spring garden observers, these chattering black birds sheltering from the rain
 Second, vegetables that have complementary top growth are: beans and celery, radishes, staked tomatoes, corn, and squash. Kohlrabi and beets have similar leafy tops. Cabbage likes a long list of neighbors: chives, cucumber, onions, peppers, tomatoes, corn, and carrots. Leeks and onions like carrots. Lettuce is a very popular neighbor who likes, carrots, radishes, onions, and corn. A Gallatin County gardener declared, “I had moderate luck last year planting onions amongst my broccoli.  It seemed to help keep the cabbage worms and moths down to a dull roar.  I think I will plant even more onions amongst them this year.”

Third, plants that produce shade become great companions of those plants that love to be protected from intense sun. Bush beans protect celery, lettuce, and spinach. The Brassica family provides ample shade for celery, lettuce, and spinach. Trellised peas and tomatoes are great cover for lettuce and spinach. Corn not only provides a trellis for beans it provides shade for all kinds of other vegetables.
Ennis 3rd graders plant Three Sister seeds in Spring 2010

Study the planting pattern of Buffalo Bird Woman, Hidatsa, who grew gardens in the 1800’s with her fellow villagers, along the Upper Missouri River around what is now Bismark, North Dakota. Her garden was interplanted with the “Three Sisters” consisting of beans, corn, and squash plus sunflowers. Equivalent to an Indian acre, one unit or na'xu contained 10 rows of intermingled hills of vegetables. All of the Three Sister seeds were planted together in one hill. Ten of these acres comprised a garden. Visit the Buffalo Bird Woman garden at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana this coming summer to see Native companion planting.

California poppies make good fence neighbors
Beneficial influences or good neighbors in a vegetable garden are plantings at the ends of beds of certain perennials. Some of these plants are herbs others are considered by many as weeds but we would do well to include in our gardens: lemon balm, chamomile, oregano, marjoram valerian, dandelion, and stinging nettle. Interplanting and rotating crops within a Biointensive bed allows for greater production. However, consider not growing the same crop in the same spot year after year. Different plants take different quantities and types of nutrients out of the soil. If over-planted, soil nutrient deficiencies can lead to diseases and encourages non-beneficial insects.

I like growing varieties of deer tongue, red leaf, and baby romaine lettuces interplanted in pots with pansies or violas [Viola tricolor hortensis]. Both lettuce and pansies tolerate cooler temperatures so can be started early in a greenhouse or cold frame. The best part is throwing both into a tasty salad together. Lettuce and pansies, carrots and radishes, cabbage and onions sown together grow together to be good neighbors!
Violas like chocolate, too!

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