Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Friends with benefits

The snow is melting! Well, raining away anyway. The snow banks on our land our only 4 feet high now. It shan't be long now. I can start to see smidges of my cold plot appearing which is a great feeling. I have a host of broccoli, varied cabbages and cauliflower under the growlight that I am excited to plant once the soil is workable. That being said, I have to stop my procrastinating and wade through the marvelous selection to pick out carrots, spinach, parsnips and arugula to put in the cold patch as well. Last year we planted 500 carrots, 250 each of Danvers and Dragon carrots. While it may seem to be alot, it proved to be insufficient for our needs and I need to make sure to get a 2nd 500 started so we can have carrots when the cold weather returns. While the Danvers is a wonderfully robust orange carrot, my family was far more interested in the exciting purple color of the Dragon carrot.

So as I plot out the course of my cold plot, it got me thinking of companion planting. We don't use any chemicals or other nasties around here and thus turn to plants, herbs and flowers which offer a natural pest protection for the crops. Some are sacrificial in that we don't grow them to eat necessarily but are there to be eaten by other things. Others provide dual benefits of harvestability and pest protection.

Some of my favorites :

Daikon Radish - Great for interplanting amongst many things. They deter flea beetles, can draw borers away from squashes and I found they kept grubs away from my carrots beautifully. In addition they can keep leaf miners away from spinach, deter corn borers and deter rust flies. I use radishes in abundance in our garden. We never end up eating the radish part as that is sacrificial but the leaves are tasty as a green in salads or anywhere you might like a tangy green. They do taste like a mild radish! They also sport amazing pods that are similar looking to pea pods which also go great with salads and are handy to use in stir fry.

Marigolds - Last year we used Jolly Jester marigolds. I put them in as a border for three of our garden plots. I will probably opt for a smaller marigold next year. The marigold chosen must be scented to work. The Mexican marigold is supposed to be great in deterring Mexican flea beetles. Considering the amount of problems we had with them last year on our black beans, I think this will be a good option for us this year. The marigold is a fabulous and attractive way to deter bad nematodes, whiteflies and rabbits.

Lemon Balm - Lemon balm is so resourceful. It deserves it's own post for a different day. We use it in abundance for bites, stings, tea, bug repellent, crushed on pasta or fish and many other things. In terms of pests however, it is good for deterring a plethora of bugs, including the dreaded squash bug, when used an herbal powder. Crush some dried leaves and shake around.

Chives - Handy for repelling aphids. Some evidence it drives away Japanese beetles. Improves the flavor of tomatoes and carrots.

Rosemary - Wonderfully tasty way to deter bugs such as cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies. I have had little luck transplanting little sprouts. I think this year I will invest in a mature plant which I can experiment with propagating cuttings. I do have some seedlings under the grow light which I think will let mature indoors for awhile.

Sage - Like the radishes, I intersperse sage among several of the plots for it's beneficial properties. I must say I don't care for sage much taste wise. It is a pretty plant though and neighbors always know to come and get it for harvesting since I won't use it. It is a great friend to all the plants in the cold plot. It deters cabbage moths, beetles and carrot flies.

So these are a few of my favorite friends of the garden. Any handy tips you are using?