‘Companions’ logical solution for great mini-veggie gardens

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Any small garden will benefit from a focal point of a blueberry bush. A happy companion to most any edible, one bush will provide out-of-hand delight all season

Last week our column discussed creating a small pollinator garden as a season — long “Valentine” gift to ourselves, pollinators and the earth.

Today, I’ll expand a bit on the idea of “small” with some suggestions for successful veggie gardens utilizing the concept of companion planting. It’s a given that some things grow better with certain others, and not at all with a few “enemies.” As I’ve grown older (WAY older!) I no longer want to struggle with a big garden since I’m the only one to eat from it anyhow. So with only a few favorites to plant, a much smaller space is needed, and that’s the theme for today.

Since companion planting is the practical way to achieve successful, healthy vegetables (including fruits, herbs and flowers) I’m going to provide a small — scale guide with suggestions to help ensure a successful growth pattern and harvest.

First, locate your site. A great number of surprising small garden possibilities abound, often where we least expect them. I found one three years ago when I saw several healthy clumps of greenery popping up in an old disused compost pile. Potatoes! I recalled that I had tossed out some withered spuds the previous fall which, after overwintering, came to life and presented me with a bumper crop of beautiful perfect potatoes that I gladly made good use of.

Another possibility had presented itself many years earlier when still in the large garden mode, discovering I had overlooked my packets of summer squash seeds, planted them in desperation among a pile of rocks at the back of my Hauser Lake property. What a revelation! Yellow crookneck, green zucchini, and cute little patty — pans leaped and tumbled over and among the rocks for a delightful visual treat as well as a culinary one.

So sites are pretty easy to come by — perhaps a spot where you’ve pulled out a large old shrub, or torn down a shed or chicken coop — look around! And since you’ll be planting on purpose, you can make sure to pick friendly partners for your little garden.

Had I planned ahead I could have planted green and/or wax beans, corn, eggplant, horseradish, gladioli and all members of the Coles — broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi — all of which grow well with potatoes. However, no squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes — or even sunflowers or raspberries will grow among the spuds. And of course, I hadn’t really “planted” those potatoes anyway.

As for the Squash — both Summer and Winter varieties grow well with pole beans, carrots and corn. Strange that while both spuds and squash like corn, they don’t like each other. This does seem to be the case, however, with many likes and dislikes.

Carrots, by the way, do well with a lot of veggies, so if you want carrots and only two or three other items for your mini — garden, consider their “likes” which are: Peas, lettuce, chives, tomatoes, onions, rosemary and sage. They dislike only dill and anise. So consider any of that group as candidates for a small space. All of the veggies listed obviously do well with each other so any pairings should be successful.

Incidentally, companion planting isn’t only a matter of compatibility — sometime buddy plants actually enhance their neighbors, while others serve as “trap crops”–drawing the foliage/bulb eaters and their larva away from the main crop. A case in point is parsley, which serves as food for the swallowtail butterfly’s larvae — a striped green/black caterpillar — providing needed food for the beneficial larvae while still maintaining edibles for our own dinner tables. (Prior columns have suggested using the “sacrifice” parsley as a beneficial ornament in the rose garden, and planting the kitchen parsley in the veggie garden). Many flowers also serve admirably in this role, adding beauty and practicality by negating the need for pesticides by drawing the foliage/bulb eaters and their larva away from the main crop.

Following is a list of sorts which cannot help but be repetitious, but you can choose your favorites for companion planting fairly easily. “C” stands for companion and “E” for enemy — if any.

Asparagus: C — tomatoes, parsley, basil;

Green and/or wax beans: C — corn, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, cabbage, petunias, oregano, mustard, summer savory, rosemary, larkspur; E — onions, garlic, gladiolus.

Pole beans: C — corn, squash, oregano, mustard, summer savory; E: onions, beets, sunflowers, Cole crops.

Chives: C — Roses and ornamentals, most veggies; E — beans, Dill — which, as does anise — also harms carrots, but tomatoes as well (while enhancing cabbage, onion and lettuce);

Chinese cabbage (Bok Choy, etc. different from the American Cole crops): C — peas; E — pole beans.

Corn: C — potatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, squash.

Cucumbers: C — beans, corn, peas, radishes, sunflowers, Chamomile; E — aromatic herbs, potatoes.

Eggplant: C — beans, basil.

Fennel: While this delicious bulb with licorice — flavored fronds is not friend to most anything in the garden, it is Enemy to slugs and snails, so may work for you among Hostas. Otherwise, give it a private space with sunlight and rich soil away from the veggie garden.

Garlic: C — Roses; E — beans and peas

Leeks: C — celery, carrots and onions; E — sage, peas, beans.

Lettuce: C — carrots, radishes, strawberries, cucumbers. E — Feverfew, Chrysanthemums.

Melons: C — beans, corn, peas, radishes, thyme, sunflowers; E — potatoes, most aromatic herbs.

Onions: C — beets, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, chamomile, summer savory; E: Sage, peas, beans.

Parsley: C — tomatoes, asparagus, roses.

Peas: C — Most vegetables/herbs; E — onions, garlic, gladiolus, potatoes.

Peppers (Sweet bells/Hot): C — most vegetables and herbs; E — onions, garlic, gladiolus, potatoes.

Radishes: C — peas, nasturtiums, lettuce, chervil, cucumbers (planting lots of radishes with your peas and cukes will trap many harmful pests).

Roses: C — Borage, chives, garlic, lavender, leeks, mint, parsley, rosemary, rue, sage, santolina, thyme, wormwood (Artemisia), Tansy.

Rutabaga, turnips: NOTE: Friends to peas, but NOT each other: Remember that these related crops (including radishes) will cross with each other, also with Chinese cabbage and Oriental mustard, so don’t plant together if you want true — to — species produce.

Spinach and Chard: C — strawberries. These greens would also welcome our pictured blueberries.

Tomatoes: C — chives, borage, thyme, onions, parsley, asparagus, marigolds, carrots, mints, nasturtiums; E: Cole crops, potatoes, fennel.

Watercress/Mustards: Compatible with most vegetables and aromatic herbs.

Regarding some of the aromatic herbs, read on: Basil is an annual aromatic herb with the added bonus that deer hate it! Dill draws a host of valuable pollinating insects; Sage is probably the most valuable of all the herbs you’ll ever grow; companion to most every veggie except cucumbers, this hardy perennial shrub should have a permanent sunny place in every garden, Its flowers draw bees and hummingbirds, and it deters deer; Mint — — Another bee/hummingbird magnet hated by deer; Thyme — perennial that can serve as path borders or in beds of its own: Culinary thyme is an aromatic edible, while an ornamental bed of fibrous — rooted creeping flowered or woolly thyme not only allows itself to be walked on, but chokes out weeds, draws pollinating bees, and deters deer. Use it for your garden paths!

Rosemary –Beloved of roses and a must — have for a variety of cookery, this tender perennial must be kept in pots through the summer and brought in to brighten the kitchen in the winter.

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at bcdailybee@bonnercountydailybee.com or by phone at 208-265-4688.

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