Urban Farming – Part 2 – Choosing crops and companion planting

Originally Posted – www.transitionpgh.org – July 28, 2011 @ 7:46 PM

Starting in January my mailbox overflows with seed catalogs full of colorful photos of the newest herbs and hybrid vegetables. Thousand pound pumpkins, twenty pound radishes, kohlrabi the size of basketballs and red sweet corn. The beauty of farming is variety and the more space you have the more you can experiment with different vegetables. I see my farm as a giant laboratory and my experiment involves finding the easiest and tastiest vegetables to grow. My results will hopefully culminate in a farming curriculum designed for everyday people to grow their own food as successfully as possible. In the short run I want to feed people, but in the long run I want to teach people how to feed themselves. I have been finding endless permaculture resources that would apply if say I owned a mountain in Austria but when it comes to permaculture in the city I am left with a feeling of emptiness. I think the giant fact that everyone is missing is most of the research done on the subject involves some form of money to get started. What about the people who get $205 a month in welfare, $715 a month in social security or possibly nothing.

Most of my operation is made possible by donations from people who believe in what we are doing. A local greenhouse has become our biggest donor giving us countless plants and seeds with the only stipulation being using them to teach kids. They are our plants but we use them like tools to teach the kids how many varieties of edible food can be grown easily at home. Last summer when we were picking the first SunGold cherry tomatoes of the year we were with a group of kids that were trying fresh fruit for the first time in their lives. After sampling some tomatoes one of the younger kids said he had no idea you could grow food. That was when I figured out what my goal with these kids was going to be. I was going to teach these kids how to survive with little money through farming and since there is a chance these kids will never leave the city I had to adapt all of the information I could absorb into an idiot proof method of sustainable farming in an urban environment. I should mention that although I have been gardening my whole life sustainable urban farming has only become an obsession in the past few years.

When choosing crops several factors need to be taken into consideration. Space, light requirements, labor requirements and of course taste. Radishes are ready for harvest in around 30 days but try getting a kid to eat a radish. In theory you could grow fields of radishes and feed the masses in 25 – 30 days. Although radishes are full of vitamins and minerals, the calories are mostly sugars and how many spicy radishes could a person possibly eat. I believe food for hungry people does not have to be boring with the many varieties of vegetable seeds available today. Intead of only dropping food into third world countries what if they dropped a mix of native food seeds with the food so in a year or two a food forest could be established at the drop zone providing food for generations.

Anyway back on track… spacing is more important than most people realize and every plant has specific requirements. The pack of seeds you are planting usually has spacing requirements that I have found to be pretty accurate. Part of farming in the city is figuring how to grow the most food possible in the space available. When space is at a minimum don’t grow vegetables you dont like. If you know you hate radishes than it is probably not worth growing twenty pound daicon radishes.

Corn takes up a lot of space and you only get one or two ears per stalk think of it as an opportunity to grow companion plants like peas, beans and winter squash in the space between rows. Companion planting is an important part of sustainable gardening. Some plants are natural pest deterents while others improve growth habit and taste. I wanted to compile a list of companion plants that I know off hand but a google search will bring up hundreds of pages dedicated to the subject with information on any plant you can think of. This is a handy little list I have compiled using every resource I could get my hands on.

Asparagus – Aster Family, dill, coriander, carrots, tomatoes, parsly, basil, comfrey and marigolds. Avoidonions, garlic and potatoes.

Basil – Tomatoes improve growth and flavor. Peppers, oregano, asparagus and petunias. Repels flies and mosquitoes. Keep away from rue and sage.

Beans – Enrich the soil with nitrogen fixed from the air, improving the soil for whatever crop you plant after the beans are finished. Companions for carrots, chards, corn, eggplant, peas, potatoes, brassicas, beets, radish, strawberry and cucumbers. Beans are great planted with heavy nitrogen users like corn and grains. Keep beans away from alliums. Do not allow beans to mature on the plant, or it will stop producing. Do not pick beans or cultivate when they are wet, or it will spread viral disease.

Beet – Adds minerals to the soil, leaves are composed of 25% magnesium making them valuable additions to the compost bin. Climbing beans and beets stunt each others growth. Companions include lettuce, onions and brassicas. Beets and kohlrabi grow perfectly together and are helped by garlic and mint. Garlic improves growth and flavor. Rather than growing invasive mints around your beets, use your mint clippings as a mulch.

Broccoli – Companions are basil, bush beans, cucumber, dill, garlic, hyssop, lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, potato, radish, rosemary, sage, thynme, and tomato. Broccoli needs lots of calcium so it makes sense to grow it around plants that don’t require so much calcium like nasturtium and beets. Put the nasturtiums right umder the broccoli plants. Herbs like rosemary, dill and sage help repel pests with their didtinct aromas. Broccoli despises grapes, strawberries, mustards and rue.

Cabbage – Celery, dill, onions and potatoes are good companion plants. Celery improves growth and health. Clover interplanted with cabbage has been shown to reduce the cabbage aphid and cabbageworm populations by interfering with the colonization of the pests and increasing the number of predatory ground beetles. Plant chamomile with cabbage as it improves growth and flavor. Cabbage hates strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, rue, grapes, lettuce and pole beans.

Carrots – Leaf lettuce, onions and tomatoes are companions. Dill and parsnips are enemies. Flax produces an oil that may protect root vegetables from pests.

Chives – Improve growth and flavor of carrots and tomatoes. Friendly to apples, brassica and many others. Helps keep aphids away from tomatoes, mums, and sunflowers. Some literature claims that chives repel japanese beetles and carrot rust fly. Planted below apple trees chives help prevent scab and planted around roses they prevent black spot. Avoid planting near beans and peas.

Collard Greens – Basil, bean, cucumber, dill, garlic, hyssop, lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, potato, radishm rosemary, sage and thyme. Avoid planting near grapes, rue and tansy.

Corn – Amaranth, beans, cucumber, melons, parsly, peas, potato, pumpkin, squash and sunflower. Avoid celery, and tomato plants by 20 feet.

Cucumbers – Cucumbers are great companions to corn and beans. They all like the same conditions…  warmth, rich soil and plenty of moisture. Let the cukes grow up and over your corn stalks. Also do well with peas, beets, radishes and carrots. Radishes deter cucumber beetles. Dill attracts beneficial predators. Avoid sage, potatoes and rue.

Dill – Improves the health of cabbage. Keep away from carrots, caraway, lavendar and tomatoes. The flower heads of dill are one of the best nectar sources for beneficial insects in the garden attracting hoverflies, predatory wasps and many more. Some websites claim it repels aphids and spider mites to some degree. It is said that you should scatter some good size dill leaves on squash plants to repel the dreaded squash bug! Does well with lettuce, onions, cabbage, sweet corn and cucumbers.

Eggplant – Amaranth, beans, peas, peppers, spinach, taragon, thyme, and marigold.

Garlic – Plant near roses to repel aphids. Benefits apple trees, pear trees, cucumbers, peas, lettuce and celery. Plant under peach trees to repel borers. Garlic accumulates sulfur which is a naturally occurring fungicide which will help with disease prevention in the garden. It has the added value of repelling codling moths, japanese beetles, root maggots, snails and carrot root fly. Some literature claims that capsuls filled with garlic powder planted around fruit trees will deter deer.

Lettuce – Beets, broccoli, beans, carrots, cucumbers, onion, radish and strawberries. Grows in the shade. Keep away from cabbage, cabbage is a deterent to the growth and flavor of lettuce.

Marigolds – Given a lot of credit as a pest deterrent. Discourages many insects. Plant freely throughout the garden.

Melons – Corn, pumpkin, radish and squash. Marigold deters beetles, nasturtium deters bugs and beetles.

Mint – Deters white cabbage moths, ants, rodents, flea beetles, fleas aphids and improves the health of cabbage and tomatoes. Use cuttings as a mulch around members of the brassica family. Flowers attract hoverflies and predatory wasps. Earthworms are also said to be attracted to mint. Also said to be effective in deterring mice.

Onions – Planting chamomile and summer savory with onions improves flavor. Other companions include carrots, leeks, beets, kohlrabi, strawberries, brassicas, dill, lettuce and tomatoes. Onions planted with strawberries help the berries fight disease. Keep onions away from peas and asparagus.

Oregano – Can be used with most crops but especially good for cabbage. Plant near broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower to repel cabbage butterfly and near cucumbers to repel cucumber beetle. Also good for grapes.

Parsley – Asparagus, carrot, chives, onions, roses and tomatoes are good companions. Mint and parsley are apparently enemies and you should keep them well away from each other.

Peas – Peas fix nitrogen in he soil. Plant next to corn. Other companions include peas, beans, carrots, celery, chicory, corn, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, early potato, radish, spinach, strawberry, sweet pepper, tomatoes and turnips. Do not plant peas with chives, grapes, potatoes or  onions.

Peppers, bell – Plant peppers near tomatoes, parsley, basil, marjoram, lovage, and carrots. Keep away from fennel and kohlrabi.

Peppers, hot – Chili peppers prevent root rot and other fusarium diseases, Chili peppers should be planted in the shelter of other plants like tomatoes, green peppers and okra. Hot peppers like to be grouped with cucumbers, eggplant, tomato, okra, swiss chard and squash. Herbs to plant near them include basils, oregano, parsly and rosemary. Never plant nest to beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts or fennel.

Radish – The workhorse of the garden. Companions include beets, beans, carrots, chervil, cucumber, lettuce, melons, nasturtium, parsnip. peas, spinach and members of the squash family. Chervil and nasturtium improve growth and flavor. Radishes are a deterrent against squash borers, cucumber beetles and if you let them go to seed around your corn they will help fight squash borers. Radishes will lure leaf miners away from spinach. The damage done to the radish leaves does not stop the radish root from growing. Avoid planting near hyssop, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and turnips.

Rhubarb – Companion to all brassicas. Cabbage and broccoli plants planted in your rhubarb patch will thrive. Rhubarb protects beans from black flies. Some interesting companions are columbine, garlic, onions and roses. Helps deter red spider mites. The leaves contains the poisonous compound oxalic acid.

Rosemary – Companion to cabbage, beans, carrots and sage. Deters cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies. Use cuttings to place by the crowns of carrots to deter carrot flies.

Rue – Deters aphids, fish moths, flea beetles, onion maggot, slugs, snails, flies and japanese beetles in roses and raspberries. Companions are roses, fruits in particular figs, raspberries and lavendar. To make it even more effective crush the leaves to release the small. Has been known to repel cats. Avoid planting near cucumbers, cabbage, basil or sage. Rue may cause skin irritation to some individuals.

Sage – Companion to broccoli, cauliflower, rosemary, cabbage and carrots to deter cabbage moths, beetles and black flea beetles. Allowing sage to flower also attracts many beneficial insects.

Spinach – Plant with peas and beans as they provide natural shade for spinach. Companion to cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, onion, peas, strawberries and fava beans. Plant spinach with squash. It is a great use of space because by the time squash plants start to get big the spinach is ready to bolt.

Southernwood – Plant with cabbage, and here and there in the garden. Wonderful lemony scent when crushed or brushed in passing. Roots easily from cuttings. Does not like fertilizer. This plant is virtually pest free.

Squash – Companions include beans, corn, cucumbers, radishes, melon, mint, onion and pumpkin. Borge planted with your squash deters worms, improves growth and flavor. Marigolds deter beetles. Nasturtium deters squash bugs and beetles. Oregano provides general pest protection. Keep squash away from potatoes.

Sweet potatoes – Sweet potatoes are not the same as regular potatoes, in fact they are a member of the morning glory family. Herbs such as dill, thyme and oregano all work well with sweet potatoes. Summer savory helps to confuse and possibly repel the sweet potato weevil. Does well with root crops like beets and parsnips. Alyssum makes a perfect living mulch for them. A few pole beans may be planted with them and left to grow on the ground with the potato vines. KEEP THEM AWAY FROM SQUASH. The problem with sweet potato and squash is they will compete with each other for space as they both like to spread out.

Strawberry – Companions include beans, borage, lettuce, onions, spinach and thyme. Enemies include cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kohlrabi. Thyme as a border deters worms.

Summer savory – Plant with beans and onions to improve growth and flavor. Honey bees love it when it is in bloom.

Sunflowers – Planting sunflowers with corn is said by some to increase the yield. Aphids a problem? Definitely plant a few sunflowers here and there in the garden. Step back and watch the ants herd the aphids onto them. We have been doing this for years and it is remarkable. The sunflowers are so tough that the aphids cause very little damage and you will have nice seed heads for the birds to enjoy. Sunflowers also attract hummingbirds which eat whiteflies. Talk about a symbiotic relationship!

Tarragon – Plant throughout your garden, not many pests like this plant. Recomended to enhance the growth and flavor of just about every vegetable.

Thyme – Deters cabbage worms. Wooly thyme makes a wonderful groundcover and living mulch.

Tomatoes – Companions include asparagus, basil, baens, carrots, celery, chive, cucumber, garlic, head lettuce, marigolds, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, peppers and marigolds. Basil repels flies and mosquitoes and improves the growth and flavor. Bee balm, chives and mint improve health and flavor. Borage deters tomato worm and also improves growth and flavor. Dill improves growth and flavor until it matures, after it matures it will begin to stunt the tomato growth. Enemies include corn, kohlrabi, potatoes, dill, fennel, cabbage and cauliflower.

Turnips – Companions include peas and cabbage. Enemies include radishes and any other root vegetable, delphinium, larkspur and mustard.

I have compiled this list from many different resources including print and web based literature. I would love to hear of any companion plants that I may have missed or just don’t know about.