ImageThere are a few reasons why I wanted to write a little bit about companion planting. One of them is that this concept is a perfect example of what Permaculture is all about. We use the term “plant guilds” to describe the groups of plants that like to grow in each others vicinity. One of the best-known guilds includes tomatoes and basil, lesser known members of this guild would be asparagus and sweet pepper. Image

The benefits derived from placing complementary plants together can be due to a number of reasons. Sometimes one plant would attract insects that are a natural predator of an insect that tends to be a pest to it’s companion plant. Marigold and Petunia are commonly used to attract pest-predators into an eco-system. Another way in which neighbouring plants can benefit each other is through the sharing and exchanging of minerals and nutrients through their roots. Legumes [peas, beans] can “fix” nitrogen in the soil by accumulating it in their root nodules from the atmosphere. This nitrogen is then available for neighbouring root systems to take up if needed. That is why it is common practice to follow Legumes with a nitrogen-hungry family in the crop rotation system.

There is a physical dimension to companion planting too. One good example of this is “The Three Sisters” a plant guild developed by the South American Incans and still used today on the slopes of the Andes. The three sisters are Pumpkins, Corn and Climbing Beans. They demonstrate another very important concept of permaculture, and remind us that the principles of permaculture are not always new, but coincide with ancient wisdom. This principle is referred to as “stacking” in permaculture, and can be applied in many other situations. In this particular stacked system, the pumpkin vines spread across the ground, finding gaps between it’s sisters to capture light with it’s impressive leaves. The corn shoots upward, utilizing light in the vertical plane, and the beans use the sturdy corn as a climbing frame. The result of this combination is three crops from one field, little or no weeds because the pumpkin covers the ground, and the nitrogen fixed in the soil by the beans is available to the the other two hungry companions.Image

The difficult part of companion planting is to remember which plants go together and to try integrating this knowledge into a planting plan. There are some useful guides available in books and on-line, but it is tricky to collate so much information into one document, table or chart.

This wheel is one person’s attempt to put it all together, but needs to be blown up by several magnitudes before it is legible.Image

I have also come across an excellent spreadsheet version, compiled by Ute Bohnsack and kindly made available to the anyone who follows this link..

You might have noticed that some plants in the above chart are a good companion with almost every other plant. Yarrow, Tagetes and Petunia in particular. These plants wouldn’t be considered in a conventional allotment planting plan, but perhaps they should be, especially considering Yarrow is a valuable medicinal plant, Tagetes and Petunias are edible and they also add some colour to the picture. Pot marigold [Calendula officinalis] are a popular companion due to their popularity with pest predators [the hover-fly in particular, a natural predator of aphids] and their medicinal potency.. they are also quite tasty!

Of course it is possible to experiment in your own garden and observe what plants like to grow together. Please let me know if you come across any winning combinations.

Thanks and respect to the creators of the useful guides above.


About microfarmer

On a mission.. to share my passion.. for growing pure food in a thriving soil.. other related passions include.. agroforestry, woodcraft, natural materials, alternative/ appropriate tech., travelling and learning, food and herbal medicine. Working co-operatively to create meaningful livliehoods and innovative solutions
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6 Responses to Companion Planting

  1. wellsforzoe says:

    Excellent, Thank you.

    • 3dirtytree says:

      Welcome John, I just spent the last hours looking over your archives and reading about the work done by wellsforzoe.. I have been toying with the idea of doing some development work as part of my studies into sustainable low-input agriculture using intermediate technology. My areas of interest include dry-land strategies for re-afforestation and forest gardening. I am a student of E.F. Schumacher and Victor Schauberger. Your work in Malawi interests me greatly. I will be following your progress closely and commend your organisation. We have been developing different designs of the hydraulic RAM pump in Portugal and I was curious about the pump designs you have worked with in your facility.

  2. Aggie says:

    The link to the companion planting spreadsheet is something that we, as new farmers, are so happy to have. Thank you. Will come back to read more of your blog.

    • 3dirtytree says:

      Thanks for the positive feedback Aggie, happy to hear this post is helping spread the good word. Have fun trying out new plant guilds in the coming year.

      • Aggie says:

        Do you have that lovely companion planting graphic in spreadsheet format? If so, please share. If not, would you like a copy when I get it formatted?

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