Gardening is a never ending learning process. We are constantly adjusting the garden plans or incorporating a different method of planting to work around issues that always seem to pop up each year. It can be challenging at times, but for me that's part of the fun in gardening.
The first year in the garden we encountered an infestation of garden pests. We knew that our soil didn't contain many nutrients and had little to no organic matter so we weren't really too surprised. The topsoil was amended with aged manure, but it would take several years for the nutrients and organic matter to build up the soil.
The garden is grown organically, meaning we don't use any chemicals or chemical fertilizers on the plants or in the garden. We tried some organic methods to deal with the pests, like making a pepper and soap spray to apply to the plants to keep the bugs away or using sticky tape to trap the beetles. That seemed to work, but once one pest was controlled another seemed to appear.
The next year when planning the garden we wanted to try using a natural method so we decided to try companion planting. Companion planting is when you plant certain types of plants together that work with each other to naturally help deter pests, attract beneficial insects and help to rebuild and replenish the soil.
We planted carrots, beets and onions together...
|onions help repel the carrot rust fly|
Tomatoes, basil and sunflowers together...
|planting basil with tomatoes makes them more flavorful|
Corn, beans and squash together...
|the three sisters|
And many others like peas with marigolds, potatoes with beans and onions near the tomatoes.
Companion planting made a dramatic difference in the garden. The plants seemed much healthier, we noticed more beneficial insects on the plants and there weren't any infestations as in the previous year.
This year we have already begun incorporating companion planting in all of the beds.
Yesterday the garden club planted sunflowers in the back two beds.
The sunflowers are spaced 24" apart as shown in the diagram above. When the sunflowers are half grown they will be under sown with crimson clover. Sunflowers provide carbon and organic matter when you till the dried stalks back into the soil and the clover provides an added nitrogen fixation.
Planting sunflowers with clover can quickly replenish depleted soil.
We also planted our potatoes.
The potatoes were planted in the center of two beds, in a trench about 12" deep. The soil was piled on both sides of the trench. Potatoes were planted 9" apart, as shown above, and covered with 3" of soil from one side. When the potatoes start to poke through the soil, we will cover with the remaining soil from one side and plant beans 6" apart. When the potatoes start to poke through the soil again, we will cover with the soil from the other side and plant more beans. Beans and potatoes work together to deter insects.
The kids also planted corn in the four large corner beds, the first planting for the three sisters (corn, beans and squash). The corn was planted in the for corners of each bed, 12" apart. When the corn is about 4" tall we will be planting the beans and squash. The beans add nitrogen to the soil and the thorny vines from the squash keeps animals from getting to the corn.
Gardening using natural methods, such as companion planting, helps keep your plants healthy, naturally replenishes the soil by adding back nutrients and organic matter, and keeps those pesky bugs from devouring your plants.