Herb News


Gardening Articles for week ending   7th October 2006
Written by Wally Richards.


A reader, in their email recently, asked if I could write an article on Companion Planting.
As many of us are busy planting out seedlings into our gardens, it is an opportune time to have a wee look at what can be planted next to each other for some benefits and what should not. In fact this latter aspect of what should not be grown near each other is in my mind more important. Anything that reduces good growth or creates other problems is a negative and as some gardeners do have problems anyway why add to them?
To start with let’s look at our gardening friends that live in the soil, microbes (bacteria) and fungi.
There is a ratio that forms in soils where one of these will be more dominate that the other while both will provide vast benefits to your plants. We find in natural forests that the fungi are kings, where on natural grass lands the microbes rule. Thus our trees and shrubs (small trees) prefer lots of the many various fungi to do best. Our lawns, vegetables and flowers want their mates the microbes.
There are exceptions to this rule as nature is not finite in its preferences such as woodland plants like strawberries live and perform best in soils with ample beneficial fungi and fewer microbes.
We notice that grass and a number of other plants do not do well near trees and shrubs. Certainly it can be the aspect of shade and the trees taking out moisture and nutrients from the soil. When we apply ample moisture and nutrients, as well as removing the lower branches to afford reasonable natural light to these plants and grasses they still do not do as well as the same plants a bit further away. The added moisture and food certainly makes the trees grow bigger and faster. It is to do with the balance of the soil life. I love trees for the shelter and shade they provide but have always found my vegetables growing near the trees are never as good as the same ones a bit further away.
There is a certain amount of proved science about some companion planting and the rest is unproven but have been noticed by gardeners over hundreds of years which are termed traditional knowledge.
One of my favourites is the planting of corn seeds and once these plants are up a foot or so then bean seeds (or peas) are planted next to each corn plant. Later when the beans have started to climb up the corn squash seeds are planted in amongst them. This is a traditional planting by the North American Natives in some tribes. One can see the immediate benefit of the beans or peas having the taller corn plants to climb up or support and the larger leaves of the squash aiding in the retention of soil moisture.
But another aspect pertains, beans and peas are nitrogen fixers and corn and squash need heaps of natural nitrogen to grow well. This same planting can be applied to tall growing sunflowers too.
We have in these two cases very beneficial companion plantings. Clover is also a great nitrogen fixer.
Here is an interesting case I was told about in regards to clover and Roundup. The group of farmers who use the mineral rock dust they call ‘Probitas’ did a trial in two paddocks next to each other. One paddock was sprayed with Roundup to kill the grasses and weeds then ploughed. The other paddock was just ploughed with no herbicide used. Probitas and lime were applied to both paddocks and then tilled. Then clover seeds were drilled planted in both. The clovers grew in both paddocks but the non Roundup treated paddock had better looking plants. Later some clovers were lifted in both paddocks to check the root nodules which fix the nitrogen. In the Roundup treated paddock the nodules were small and sparse.
Where in the non Roundup treated paddock the root nodules were large and like bunches of grapes.
A very interesting result which shows how much harm is done to the soil with these types of herbicides.
      Another reason for planting different plants together is insect pest control.
The African marigold releases thiopene which is a nematode repellent, making it a good companion for a number of garden crops. There are plants that attract beneficial insects because they provide a nectar source for them. Phacelia Lacy has proved popular with some for this purpose attracting bees and predictor small wasps. (The wasps kill the aphids by laying their eggs in the aphid’s body)
Another way is to plant a Shoo fly plant which attracts white fly and helps keep the pest off your other plants. (I don't know how well this works in reality but the Shoo fly plant certainly gets covered in whitefly)
Now lets look at a few examples of common vegetables and what can be planted next to them and what should not.
Asparagus likes tomatoes, parley and basil: Climbing beans like corn, summer savory and radish but not onion, beets kohlrabi and sunflowers. Dwarf or bush beans don't like onions but like potatoes, cucumber, corn, strawberry, celery and summer savory.

Brassicas (cabbages etc) like aromatic herbs, celery, beets, onion family, chamomile and chard but not dill, strawberries, climbing beans and tomatoes.
Carrots like peas, lettuce, rosemary, onion family, sage and tomatoes but not dill.
Celery is happy with onion & cabbage families, tomato, dwarf beans and nasturtium.
Corn likes beans, pea, pumpkin, cucumber and squash but not tomatoes.
Cucumbers like beans, corn, peas, sunflowers and radish but not potatoes or aromatic herbs.
Eggplant likes beans and marigolds. Lettuce prefers carrot, radish, strawberries and cucumber.
Onions do well with beets, carrots, lettuce, cabbage and summer savory but not beans or peas.
Parsley prefers tomatoes and asparagus. Peas like carrots, radish, turnip, cucumber, corn and beans but not onion family, gladiolus or potatoes. Grow your spuds along side of beans, corn, cabbage family, marigolds and horseradish avoiding pumpkin, squash, tomato, cucumber and sunflowers.
Pumpkins get on well with corn and marigolds but not potatoes. Radish like peas, nasturtium, lettuce and cucumbers but avoid hyssop. Tomatoes prefer onions, nasturtium, marigolds, asparagus, carrot, parsley and cucumber but not potatoes, fennel and cabbage family. Turnip like peas but not potatoes.
Likely there are many others but this is a good starting point for those that wish to use the system of companion planting.

I remember once that I converted some waste land for a crop of potatoes and found that mint was growing in the area. I left the mint to grow hoping that I would not need to mint the potatoes when boiling. It didn't work the potatoes never gathered the mint flavour.
Another interesting aspect is gardening by the moon phases. For instance it is said that you should plant seeds when the moon is ascending and harvest when descending. I understand that when the moon is up and especially around full moon time on a clear night that the sun light reflected off the moon gives plants some light which allows them to grow when compared to a no moon time.
When I was a nurseryman I was planting seeds virtually everyday and never noted a better response to ascending or descending moon. I also asked other nurserymen the same and they also said it appeared to make no significant difference. (Moon light or artificial light at night will make sprouted seeds grow bigger quicker) So is there any truth in gardening by the moon to obtain better results?
I believe so because of our own conscious thoughts. If we believe something is going to grow better because of an X factor and hold that thought in mind while in the presents of plants they will respond.
It is like growing two identical plants in pots near each other. One you tell how much you love it and the other you say how bad it is. Do this daily and the bad one will fair poorly and likely die where the good one will grow lush and happy. Now if I could only apply this to my weeds I would solve a problem.

     It is now 23 years since I wrote my first weekly gardening article back in 1983. Back then it was pen to paper, long hand with numerous re-writes before the editor received the copy. Once computers started to become available, I spent $15,000 on a Armstrad IBM compatible computer and a HP scanner/printer. This made life easier in some ways but a learning curve to ensure that the PC worked correctly.
     Later on when the very popular garden writer, Nick Scott retired, I took over his syndicated column of newspapers which meant weekly publication in several papers, nation wide. 
During the following years more papers were added to the list and in some areas of the country I was replaced with local writers. Now days I am published in up to 30 odd papers either regularly or occasionally each week. Regular publications have brought a following of gardeners who prefer my more natural methods of gardening. Many gardeners over the last few years have asked if I had written a book.
The answer had always been no.
So this last winter having reached 60 years of age, I decided it was time, and that there would be a book by spring 2006. Once committed it was many winter days and nights with the heater and the computer, typing out information from years of experience.
    I could have just taken the past article files off the computer and put them together in a reasonable order and  published. Instead I felt that many would have these articles in scrap books already so much of the book was written fresh, devoting much more material to main areas of gardening such as Roses, Lawns, Tomatoes, Weeds, Vegetables etc. than could be placed in a 1000 word article.
The book has resulted in 340 pages of information, A5 size with soft cover. There are very few diagrams or pictures, just information.
The book is divided into 5 sections which include some past articles brought up to date plus information on natural products, soil health, plant health and our own health.
Not finding a publishing house that was interested in a first book from myself, it was decided to print and distribute the book as well as write it.
Thus Wally’s Down To Earth Gardening Guide is now available from some garden centres or by mail order from 0800 466464 or on the web at www.gardenews.co.nz
Some book shops may stock the book later on as well, but in the meantime if you are interested ask at your garden centre and if not available, use the above contact details.
A book review is likely soon from the Gardening Editor or Editor of a number of the papers that publish my articles each week. The book’s recommended retail is $27.95.
I have endeavored to make the book a good read as well as supplying lots of helpful advice.

Problems ring me at 0800 466 464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
wallyjr@gardenews.co.nz Email
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz

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