Companion Planting: Good for every one

July 10, 2013

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News Growing Knowledge

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’d write more in the future on companion planting. Given that in the not-too-distant-past the Neighborhood Farm Initiative planted their “Three Sisters” garden, I thought it was a good time to revisit the idea. 
When I joined the Garden Education Program (GEP) this summer, companion planting was one of the topics in which I was most interested. The idea that certain plants are mutually beneficial and grow better simply by being together was an intriguing one, and I wanted to know more about that — both for the practical reason of being able to maximize the amount of food that it was possible to grow in our 12’x12′ plots, but also because I have an entry-level curiosity about botany. 

The GEP class offers a very helpful handbook to accompany the materials that Joe covers in class. It was very interesting to read about planting families based on the work of horticulturist Sally Jean Cunningham. She writes about various plant families which can guide how to group plants.
Botanical families – (such as eggplant, peppers & tomatoes, all in the “nightshade” family)  because they are genetically related, they have similar needs & pest issues 
Feeding families - Plants grouped by their similar soil nutrient needs (onions, carrots & greens to together well this way)
Pest-fighting families – One member repels pests that harm another member (like potatoes and beans together)
Performance families – Plants that help one another grow better. The “three sisters” of corn, pole beans and squash are an example. The beans help to fix nitrogen and thereby enrich the soil, and they can grow up the stalks of the corn, which is a heavy feeding crop. The squash leaves which grow low can shade the ground and block weeds from growing.

Volunteers planting the Three Sisters garden within the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden. In a couple of months it will be a fun corn, squash, and bean maze to wander through. (photo from the NFI Facebook page)
It was fun to think through how to plant crops in my plot that would be mutually beneficial. This season, I chose to plant the “nightshade” family near one another, alongside the basil to create a “pizza garden.” I also put the carrots and onions together. Seeing the various combinations of companion families in NFI’s demonstration garden was very helpful in thinking this through. I’ll be curious to see how the plant arrangement I chose affects how the plants grow this season!

Flowers – an excellent companion to any garden, for their beauty and ability to attract crucial pollinators!

Jenn Svetlik is grateful to be a member of NFI’s Garden Education Program for the 2013 season. She’ll be reflecting on the experience throughout the summer.
Back to Top