Spring Vegetable Gardens: Are you hungry?
Hello Fellow Earthlings, and welcome back into the garden. Our discussion
this time will focus on companion planting for nitrogen management and to
bring beneficial insects into your garden to assist in pest control. Many
companion plants have benefits to gardeners beyond providing added nitrogen
to soil or luring "good guy" insects to your garden spaces.
Many companion plants are well known culinary herbs. Others are planted
commonly in flowerbeds for their beautiful blooms. The reason certain
plants are considered good companions is because they do things for other
crops that either enhance their health by increasing soil fertility,
secrete compounds that pests or diseases can't tolerate, or their pollen
and nectar-rich flowers draw a variety of beneficial insects into the
garden. Think of companion plants as attractive and functional plants that
serve to do more than just look pretty or feed you.
There are many ways to use companion plants. I have a friend that plants
red clover and alfalfa as a ground cover in the pathways of her vegetable
garden each year to supplement the nitrogen in her soil and she allows
these plants to flower so that certain beneficial insects that are
predatory or parasitic to pest insects. In the following year she covers
these pathways with a thick layer of compost and uses the pathways as her
garden space in that year. This practice of bed rotation allows her to
minimize problems often associated with soil compaction. The clovers,
alfalfa, and other plants she puts into her pathways take valuable nitrogen
from the air and fix it into the soil which supplements her need to
fertilize so she doesn't spend nearly as much money each year on nutrients
for her vegetables.
The great thing about using these plants is that they
can be mowed. So she gets to have lovely green pathways in her vegetable
plot that retard weed growth while they provide the other benefits
associated with companion planting. Plus the cutting she captures in here
mower bag makes a superb addition to her compost heap keeping her supply of
this valuable material constant.
More traditional use of companion plants is to draw beneficial insects into
the garden. Certain plants have extremely rich supplies of pollen and
nectar in their flowers. This abundance of food is irresistible to adult
beneficial insects like Lacewings, Ladybird beetles of many types,
beneficial parasitic wasps, and a myriad of other good guys. When these
insects are drawn into the garden to feed. They then gorge themselves on
the abundant food source and then do what comes naturally, they procreate.
This means that the adult insects look for the natural food source for
their offspring. This means the aphids that attack your broccoli or your
roses, the caterpillars on your cabbage, the whiteflies on your spinach, or
the hornworms on your tomatoes.
These adult beneficial insects search out
the locations of the pests in your gardens and lay their eggs close to, on,
or in the pest and let their offspring (larvae) eat up your pest
populations. The real beauty of this natural system is that these
beneficial insects are as native to our area as the pests are and they want
to eat. The logical thing to do is to let them eat the pests in your
garden. This cuts down on the time you spend controlling pests and
hopefully eliminates the use of toxic chemical pesticides in your gardens,
which saves you time, labor and money in the garden. Seems sensible to let
nature do the work, doesn't it?
Some of the most common and useful companion plants for the residential
garden to control pest populations are: alfalfa, many types of clover,
sweet alyssum, marigolds, calendulas, dill weed, many members of the mint
family, parsley, feverfew and other member of the chrysanthemum family,
cilantro (coriander), Queen Anne's lace, basil, thyme, oregano, buckwheat,
A few plants that enhance soil fertility are alfalfa, soybeans, clovers,
sweet peas, soybeans, and some annual grasses.
As you can see companion plants are not exotic, unknown species that cannot
be found in garden centers. They are in fact very common garden plants that
may already be some of your favorite members of the garden. If you would
like a complete list of companion plants for the garden send me an email or
fax me your request. I'll be glad to pass on more information. Next time we
will be discussing soil preparation and fertilizing for your spring
veggies. See you in the Garden!
Back To Dr. Curly Index
Copyright © 2012