May 12, 2014

Companion Gardening 101

Companion gardening 101People taking Austin culinary art course often wonder how they can build a flourishing organic garden in their apartment or homes. It can be a challenge, but if you plan ahead and use companion planting techniques, you can have a garden thriving with a wide variety of vegetation in no time. Here are a few facts you should know about companion planting before getting started:

How does companion planting work?
Companion planting uses the natural chemistry that certain plants have with each other to create a sustainable symbiotic relationship. For example, one plant may change the chemical composition of the soil surrounding it, which can be beneficial or harmful to another plant. Some plants have a direct influence on the growth of microorganisms in the dirt around its roots and can alter the population of pests that might be found there. If you don’t know how certain vegetation reacts around others, you might be placing two competing life forms next to each other, decreasing the potential yield of your garden.

The techniques of companion planting use the knowledge of plant behavior to help each other grow. Tall plants, for example, have the ability to provide shade for shorter, sun-sensitive plants. Experienced gardeners also know how to use a small amount of room in the most efficient manner possible, such as utilizing vining plants to cover the ground and managing upright plants to take up vertical space. Companion planting can reduce the need for pesticides by repelling insects. For example, a wide variety of garden pests hate onions. Some plants can even be used to distract insects from vegetation more desirable to humans.

How to start companion planting in your garden
1. Select a cover crop – The foundation of any good companion garden begins with selecting a nutrient-rich cover crop. Consider using buckwheat, sudangrass and grain rye. When these plants decompose, they release their nutrients into the soil and make them available to neighboring vegetation.

2. Augment environmental conditions – Companion gardening utilizes trees that can act as shade for smaller plants. Try using maple trees in your next growing project as they can transfer groundwater from their lower roots to higher ground. Short-rooted plants can use this groundwater to hydrate during dry conditions.

3. Know which insects are beneficial – There are a lot of insects out there that want to eat your precious vegetables, but a few can actually help make your garden healthy. Attract beneficial insects like ground beetles, spiders, ladybugs and praying mantis by planting dill, parsley, carrots and parsnips.