Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Architecture of Companion Planting

It probably doesn't come as a surprise to you, but I'm a planner. I have spreadsheets and lists, and computer files for everything. My goal for the garden, is to have each bed planned to make the best use of companion planting, crop rotation and successive planting to maximise the garden output. Since last year was a non-garden year, I spent a good deal of time researching companion planting, and figuring out what was most important to grow. Throw in a bit of multi-generational farmer collective unconscious, and I have a pretty efficient plan. I was very happy with how each of my beds turned out, and with a few minor adjustments, I'm looking forward to an even more efficient layout next year.

The Cucumber/Bean/Sunflower bed is my favorite. Next year I'm going to go ahead and add a little Nasturtium to it. I started with a line of "pea fence" down the middle (I've had these for years, and they work great and store easily) with cucumbers every 8 inches or so, and sunflowers every foot. Although cucumbers are not aggressive climbers, they are climbing the sunflowers quite well. I've noted that cukes always seem to grow primarily east, probably seeking the morning sun, and not ambitious enough to follow her in her climb as the sunflowers will, turning their faces first east, then west with the sunset. (click on any photo for an enlarged view)

Then down each side I put a row of bush beans. I always wish that the plants would produce when they are mid-sized and still tidy, but by August, they resemble a rain forest, and vines are slowly creeping down the walks littering with cucumbers as they grow. Next year I will give the sunflowers and beans a head start, planting them mid-May, two to three weeks ahead of the cucumbers. At this point, you can't really distinguish bush from vine, but the beans are in there producing very well, ejoying the draw of the abundant cucumber flowers to attract the pollinators!

The sunflowers are mainly for interest. My favorite seeds are Parks Large Flowered Mix. The bumble bees enjoy them most, and I rarely have the heart to cut them and bring them inside, although, that is always the plan. Having them planted down the middle with the pea fence makes it easy to tie them up and prevent the cucumbers or the rains from pulling them over into a jumbled mess.
Another successful plan was the Summer Squash/Cucumber bed. This was actually the second succession planting of both the summer squash, and the cucumbers extending the season by several weeks. In this bed, the cucumbers are planted on a pea fence down the far side, and the squash are centered down the bed. Everyone leans east, and I left plenty of room to grow in that direction. I planted Borage from seed between each squash plant, timing it just right so the squash are supporting the Borage and keeping the heavy flower heads from leaning like the other bed where I used Borage transplants.

We've been enjoying a nice crop of our favorite cucumber Marketmore. Back in 2007, I was picking a dozen every two days, which was a little too much! This year has been just right with about two a day, and the neighbor's excess for pickling.

The pickles are great, by the way. Very crisp making the overnight liming very much worth while. Even the pickled yellow zuchini turned out good. They taste basically like normal Bread and Butter pickles, with a subtle undertone of squash.


  1. Your garden and pickle photos make my mouth water ! I wish Melissa and I had your garden and you had an even better one !

    Thanks for the Roger Welsch recommendation ! I really enjoyed his books; enough so that I ordered the rest of them. I also used some of the ideas presented therein to write a blog for Melissa tonight thus gaining points (YAY !). We've been working from can't see till can't see all week and it been over 100 degrees every day to boot, so we're pretty whupped.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the books. Whenever Tim get's in a jam with some dumb question I've asked, his standard response is "I'll have to go consult Roger."

    I bought the first book back when he had the notion to restore Allis Model Bs. He has since gotten over that, and sold all of them en masse to a fellow collector without repairing a single thing. At one point he had 4 in various stages of neglect. I remember coming home one day to find him pushing and pulling "Gimpy Al" back and forth in the driveway in front of the garage. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was trying to get it parallel with the split rail fence. Ye Gods! The thing only has three wheels and one tire and you're worried about it being parallel to our front fence?

    But I did cry the day Poppy was hauled away. That tractor had a chance at being a very nice toy.

    We're enjoying cool sleeping weather this weekend. I took the day off, and we started drinking beer at noon in the garden. Tim has been sick on the couch since 2:30 pm. He does better when he's beating himself to a pulp with RR ties. His body tends to reject relaxation in a big way.

  3. We've got a whole buncha boarders coming before the end of the month and a whole bunch more in Sept. and unless we get some of our new farm ship shape, we've got no place for them to go ! YIKES ! :)

    It's supposed to top out at 91 here today before going back up over 100 early next week. We are going to take full advantage of the "cool" spell (and it really DOES feel cool) to get a lot of physical work out of the way.

    Hope Tim gets to feeling better soon ! If I think of it later on, I'll forward a pic that I think he'll get a kick out of, him being an Allis fan and all ! :)

  4. I'm planting sunflowers for the first time in my garden & was looking for an idea on what to do with them. I love the idea of the sunflowers, cukes & bush beans. Glad I found your blog.