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Companion gardening question  RSS feed

 
indigo wulf
Posts: 3
Location: Ione, WA
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My mother did raised beds of separate plants in each bed, no rotation, requiring a lot of manure and mulch to keep soil fertile. I want to do better.
After reading everything I could get my hands on recently, I've come to an idea of what I'd like my garden to be like (small, less than an acre). I was thinking of planting 5 plants and 1 tree type together. Can anyone please give me feedback on how these would grow together? Do I need to remove one, add one, etc?
Apple trees, oregano, comfrey, pumpkins, tomatoes, asparagus.
I like in Eastern Washington. I want my garden to not only reach my own table, but be tasty snacks for my rabbits, chickens, and hogs. All feedback welcome!
 
Michelle Scout
Posts: 12
Location: Frisco, TX - 7b - 8a border
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Hello Indigo,

Welcome to permies! I am a new gardener too! I have a awesome link to a companion cheat sheet! http://www.ilonasgarden.com/start-here/articles/learn/build-garden-knowledge/companion-planting-cheatsheet/ I hope it helps.

Edited: Premies to Permies, lol
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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When thinking about plants to group into guilds, it is important to consider the habits of the plants.
In your list, you have apple trees, which come in full size, semi-dwarf and dwarf sizes - which size tree you choose will matter as to what you might plant with it.

Pumpkins - and pretty much any of the squash or melon families - are broad leafed spreading vines that will climb your tree and will smother low growing plants in their vicinity. They can and will climb your trees, which probably is not good for fruiting trees that can strain their branches with the weight of their own fruit production, without adding many pounds of squash vine!

Tomatoes are sun demanding plants, they are not going to appreciate being shaded, so placement near trees has to be carefully considered for where the tree's shade falls. The tomatoes and the pumpkins might not get along well, as the pumpkin is likely to try and climb the tomato. In fact, I have squash that have reached across several feet of open ground and are trying to climb some of my tomatoes right now

Asparagus is a perennial, while the pumpkins and tomatoes are annuals. I think the tomatoes and asparagus are probably reasonably compatible, at least in terms of their growth habits. You will need to keep the asparagus well marked, so that you don't start digging up your asparagus accidentally. It also takes about three years before you can start harvesting asparagus.

Comfrey will be fine around the apple trees, attracts pollinators, great dynamic accumulator for chop and drop. Which is why it might not be a great choice for putting in among tomatoes and asparagus, when you are going to want to be able to easily cut back the comfrey. Comfrey once established could probably hold its own with the pumpkins.

Oregano is likely to have some trouble being overhwelmed by pumpkin, but should be ok around tomatoes and/or asparagus.
 
indigo wulf
Posts: 3
Location: Ione, WA
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Thank you, gives me an idea of how they'd have to be arranged to be on the same land and not compete
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1014
Location: Northern Italy
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A guy near here does asparagus and pumpkins pretty successfully. The asparagus is harvested before the pumpkin seed goes in the ground and the pumpkin grows into the 'shrub' of the asparagus. Of course his asparagus is over 3 years old.

Size is an important factor in companion planting, as is the maintenance regime you plant to use and how often you need to touch the plant for harvesting or other things. Some plants work better with others under specific conditions. For example: tomatoes can be bush tomatoes or tomatoes needing some kind of support. Change the variety of tomato and you change what plants work well with that shape.

Things like annual/perennial/heavy seeding plants also are important when deciding what to do. Normally perennials go with perennials, but there are some perennials you can cut frequently and can be grown alongside annuals.

As for maintenance, there are things that you cut frequently, things you never cut, and things you leave and just harvest the fruit but have to cut around to keep the grass away.

Hope that helps.
William
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1014
Location: Northern Italy
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Oh, the other thing I wanted to say is that I don't really give much rigorous thought to what commonly passes for companion planting. For me, 90% of the vegetable world works well with each other, 9% does so-so, and 1% shouldn't go together. That leaves me a huge margin to mix and match as I see fit. If there's enough plants and species in the mix, that's companion planting for me.

Whether a certain pairing works or doesn't work may have a lot more to do with weather, soil ecology, pH and a whole host of other things. Saying that you can get a better yield generally by companion planting sells books but doesn't come very close to the reality of gardening, as I've learned the hard way. Don't get me wrong, I want the most diverse polyculture but blanket statements like Carrots love Tomatoes (title of a book) just doesn't cut it for me anymore .

Anyway, a lot of the pairs you end up choosing are ones that you've discovered work well for you on your site. That information only comes through experience with your site.

So....
Comfrey and oregano seem like a good combo, as long as you're cutting back the comfrey often.
Apple trees - comfrey - asparagus might work together, but the apple tree is not going to like having it's roots disturbed by harvesting of below-ground asparagus, so if you can buy the asparagus that gets harvested above ground.
Tomatoes and pumpkins are both heavy feeders, so you would probably need lots of nutrients there for them. Plus they would grow into each other and make maintaining and harvesting the tomatoes a disaster.
Asparagus and pumpkins would go well if you're planting pumpkin into an already old stand of asparagus.

I would want comfrey to go with something that is getting cut regularly or that sits and grows as big as possible, maybe getting chopped once or twice.
Oregano I would want next to the tree, since they both stay untouched but weeded.
Pumpkins I would want on their own in a large space so they can run.
Tomatoes are dominating, unless you're pruning. Can't really grow stuff under them if they're bushy.

I noticed that of the plants you've chosen, only comfrey really supplies nutrients. Might want to think about adding some more of those. Cover is cheap and easy. Buckwheat if you can get it (my chickens eat buckwheat in their feed). Oh and tons of dandilion and catalogna and nettles (only in the right places). We also do broad beans and then cut them back when other stuff grows up.
William
 
Scott Strough
Posts: 299
Location: Oklahoma
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I can add that soil fertility is dependent on either high inputs, or high levels of balanced soil biology. There is no getting around that simple observation. Since you want to avoid the large applications of manure and compost that your Mothers raised beds required, I would suggest you focus primarily on soil biology. That means no till, a living root in the soil at all times, a diversity of species that grow in different seasons, and a good "chop and drop" program. Yes chop and drop works just as well or better on crops as trees. In fact grasses and forbs evolved to be grazed. So in most cases they feed the soil biology far better that trees, as long as you learn to mimic the symbiosis of that grazer / grassland coevolution. Then you can use your vastly smaller quantities of manure and compost to inoculate the soil with beneficial microorganisms instead of relying on it for your main source of plant nutrition.

Now most people don't have a cow to go graze the "weeds" in the garden. And for those people that have cows, exceedingly few are trained to eat just the grasses clover and "weeds" between the plants while avoiding the crops. So that means you need to do the "mowing" and the "chop and drop" to feed the soil biology, generally with a mower is easiest and fastest. I am experimenting with designing the garden in such a way that a chicken tractor or portable rabbit hutch can be pulled between the rows to "mow" and in a few cases geese can be used, but for now....a mower the most proven. Most permies look at edges above ground, well edges are below ground too. So design your garden beds with plenty of "soil edge space" next to perennial grasses and forbs and use that mower to fertilise your crop.
 
Willie Smits increased rainfall 25% in three years by planting trees. Tiny ad:
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