Organic food growing – companion planting in 6 steps

Plants that help each other grow!?

In the first of a mini series on organic food growing at home we have a quick master class onCompanion Planting for you. Enjoy picking up a few tips to help you grow gourmet food at home, organically!

Companion planting is the practise of growing 2 or more species of plants close together; either to their mutual benefit or, in our case, to the benefit of the food crops we want to eat.

The principles behind companion planting are not complicated, here’s 6 easy steps:

1. Plants with beneficial nutrients

Plants that can “lock” beneficial nutrients in the soil to the benefit of the food crop are a great idea for any food growing space and will provide you with more healthy nutritious crops to eat.

Example: Peas and beans produce nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots that will benefit any leafy crop, so grow lettuce close to them during growing or a crop like cabbages can be grown on top of the roots after the peas or beans have finished cropping and have been cut down.

2. Plants for attracting predators

Certain plants will attract beneficial predators such as ladybirds, hoverflies, and lacewings into the food garden, the emerging young will then feed on unwanted bugs such as aphids that could be present on the food crop.

Example: The poached egg plant (it does look like a poached egg!), Limnanthes douglasii is very good at attracting hoverflies which will feed on aphids and pollinate your plants too.

3. Plants that confuse unwanted pests

Plants can produce scents that confuse and distract the pest by masking the scent of the main food crop.

Example: A great traditional combination is growing basil or dwarf tagetes amongst tomato plants to confuse whitefly.

4. Sacrificial plants

Plants that are used as sacrificial plants to attract pests that then lay their eggs on them so that we can gather the eggs or caterpillars and destroy them.

Example: Grow nasturtiums between brassicas that attract cabbage white butterflies away from the main brassica crops.

5. Plants that secrete unpleasant (but harmless to people!) toxins through their roots

To control soil borne pest and diseases certain plants have defence mechanisms.

Example: members of the dwarf marigold family can be interplanted amongst the main food crop to control harmful soil nematodes such as wire worms.

6. Plants to control weeds

Plants that can be used to control invasive weeds.

Example: Growing Tagetes minuta which has displayed some control over ground elder and convolvulus (bindweed). Again the roots secrete toxins that are poisonous to the plants that need to be suppressed.

This mini series is brought to you from the Seed Pantry team members Mike and Neil.

Mike says: ‘For me I practice all the methods above, but when starting out I think the top 3 are great ideas for this spring and summer’

Neil says: ‘I love the fact that nature simply has the answers needed to grow healthy crops without using harmful chemicals, for my food growing, which is mainly in pots and containers, I will be planting lettuces around my peas and beans this spring’

Look out for the next post in the mini series, we’ll put a table of companion plants together for you…