Friday, April 13, 2012

Companion Planting: I Sure Don't Know Much About Plants

Dandelions attract pollinating insects and
promote fruit ripening. Mwah!
For someone with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, or really, anyone with a degree that has "Bio" in the name, you would think I would know something about plant biology. However, I went to graduate school in a medical school, so my education might have been a little heavy on the animal part.  I basically know about plants what the dudes at Home Depot and Ace Hardware tell me, so that puts me up there with pretty much any adult who knows how to ask a question.
When I told my husband I'd gone out and bought seeds and some seedlings to plant this year, he gave me quite an earful on all the stuff I might do wrong, and how you can't plant some plants next to each other, or else they'll try and kill each other, or plot against you in a bid for global domination, or some shit. Once I felt thoroughly schooled in what I didn't know, I figured I'd seek out some knowledge about what to plant together and what not.
As it turns out, what he was mostly talking about was a concept called Companion Planting. The principles of companion planting have to do with how different plant species can help each other in different ways, including nutrient uptake, pest control, and pollination.   Some plants planted next to each other will cause both species to thrive, while other combinations of plants can be detrimental to one side or the other. Some plants repel specific pests (onions and other alliums repel aphids and slugs), so they should be planted next to other species that are vulnerable to those pests. For some reason I cannot seem to discover, you should not plant brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages) near nightshades (tomatoes, peppers and potatoes), as they universally hate each other.  Since I am planting two relatively small plots in separate sections of my yard, and not planting a zillion different things across the vast farmland of America, I was able to divide and conquer, based on plant compatibility.
Some excellent resources I found were at Wikipedia (of course!), where there is a general discussion of companion planting, as well as a rather detailed list of plant compatibility, broken down into categories and giving the specifics of each type of harm or benefit (although no one seems to have an explanation as to why broccoli and tomatoes hate each other--bad phloem, I guess). 
The tension down here is palpable. Someone's about to get cut.
There's more handy information about companion gardening at How To Garden, and they have their own groovy chart, as well as a graphic example of why you shouldn't plant chard and potatoes next to each other (if you have baby potatoes in the house, you might not want to let them look).
So, in case you're wondering what sorts of yumminess I have planned for the growing season, here's the plan for my two planting areas. In the smaller of the two beds, I'll plant the broccoli and cauliflower, along with sage and rosemary. That bed might fit some yellow beans as well, if they ever decide to germinate.  Then, all the way on the other side of the yard (are you hearing me, broccoli?) I'm planting TONS of tomatoes, along with Serrano chili peppers, basil, oregano, and flat-leaf parsley. For tomatoes, I got traditional Romas, some Super Sweet 100 cherries, and an heirloom called Black Krim. The Black Krim variety is from the Isle of Krim on the Black Sea, which I'm totally hoping is just like the land-locked desert of the Southwestern U.S.
Image from, click to read their article about the Black Krim!

If my peas germinate, they go in that box as well, though I may have to build some sort of wall of herbs between them and the tomatoes (I can't seem to get an honest answer from any of these sites as to the compatibility of tomatoes and peas.). Oh, and apparently, I need to plant those marigold seeds I got around both planters, as they give off all sorts of bad bug mojo. I will try and keep my readers apprised of how things are going over the course of the summer, with lots of pictures of the Doberman trying to steal tomatoes off the vine and getting zapped by the electric fence.
Tell me what your favorite homegrown vegetables and fruits are!  Are you planning on growing any this year?

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