Companion planting for the balcony gardener
I have been making a garden on my balcony for the last 4 years. Earlier this year I learned about companion planting, and decided to see what difference this age old technique would bring about if I adopted this method. The results, are amazing.
Companion planting is a naturally developed organic planting method, by thousands of years of human observation. In its simplest sense, companion planting is growing plants, vegetables and even flowers in very close proximity, so that the species benefit from each other. Of course there are a few observations made, which established the basis of the art of companion planting. Some species like the company of some other particular species, while the same species may dislike members of another family at the same time. This requires some modest planning, but once you are set, your garden will flourish without the need of industrial chemicals, synthetic fertilizers or poisonous pesticides.
There is a growing trend to re-adopt a method, that requires no pesticides, and which does not kill the earth by exposing it to synthetic chemicals. As an example, farmers in India are now widely reverting back to this technique with very positive results.
The good news is, it just requires some fun learning and it won't cost you more than what you usually put aside for your gardening hobby. So...
How does companion planting work?
Some plants like each other, some don't. In nature, plants compete with each other for sun, shade and nutrients, so basically each plant is rival even to its own species. However, when some plants are in close proximity to each other, they may sustain healthy growth patterns. The best example is the "Three sisters" method, developed by American Indians and it is planting corn, beans and squash together. The beans use the corn as a trellis to climb on it, and meanwhile fixes the nitrogen in the soil. The squash monopolizes the available sunlight hitting the ground, eliminates weeds. It also creates a natural mulch environment. These three plants thrive together without a need for competition.
Plants that help, repel and trap
The following list are some plants that I tried this year, and for a hobbyist gardener living in a metropolitan city, they are easily available to purchase:
Apart from the advantage of having some fresh basil at hand to decorate your tomato recipes, it helps attract butterflies. This year I had a baby butterfly that inhabited the basil in the tomato pot. When the plant starts to bloom with small flowers, it will also attract bees. Although I can not say, I have been hearing that growing basil in close proximity to the tomatoes, might add a hint of basil to them. Still though, remember how delicious the pesto could be!
Parsley and Coriander
Parsley is another great green that adds a lot to salads, soups and meat dishes, and a good choice to plant with tomatoes and peppers. They attract predator insects that dine on tomato worms. Parsley grows flowers on its second year, therefore attracts bees as well. Parsley likes sunlight, so you should plant it on the sunny side of the space if you plan to try it with tomatoes or peppers. Coriander is a herb with similar companion properties but has a more pungent taste. It is quite unavoidable if you like Asian cuisine :)
Both peppermint and spearmint attracts bees and predatory insects through their oily scents and flowers. They are said to repel ants and aphids. It can be used as infusion and a great refresher in summer salads. They like sunlight and should be planted separate from other plants as they grow fast and abundantly :)
Borage is like, well, the best companion a plant could ask for! It grows beautiful blue and pink shaded flowers that attract wasps and bumblebees, and more important, it serves as a trap to attract pests, which would otherwise inhabit on tomato, pepper, cucumber and strawberry plants. On the right is a picture from one borage plant I had this summer, in close proximity to tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. I was amazed to see colonies of these pests every morning, yet none on the plants and herbs nearby.
Marigold has an oily scent and beautiful red-orange flowers that attract predatory insects as well as said to repel some harmful insects. I have heard that it has a repelling effect against mosquitoes as well. It is a good idea to plant it with tomatoes and cucumbers, and they may serve as a nice border around the perimeter of your plants. Marigolds prefer direct sunlight, although they will survive in partial shade.
Nasturtium is an all-edible plant, though it has a pungent taste, much like pepper. You can try it as an exotic hint in your salads. It has beautiful yellow-orange flowers that attract predatory insects and bumblebees. It is said to repel some harmful cucumber pests and caterpillars. They grow well with tomatoes and peppers.
This year I found some wild chives and transplanted it in close distance to tomatoes and in the same container as cucumbers. Chives is a member of the allium family like onions, and is a good companion for these plants, as well as peppers. In the meantime, it serves as a good addition to salads ;)
Apart from these plants, I have been planting some herbs in the same pot, which did pretty well until now. Try planting sage, rosemary and oregano together, these plants don't need too much watering and enjoy full sunlight. You can use these plants for bordering your bigger pots as well. They go well with tomatoes and peppers.
Plants which don't go well together
Apart from these plants I grew and mentioned earlier, I came up with some lists of plants to avoid from planting in close proximity. Here is a list of some of these combinations, which are said to inhibit each other or DO NOT go well together. When I was planning this years garden, I simply avoided these combinations:
- Allium family (onion, chives, garlic, leeks) vs. beans, peas and parsley
- Asparagus vs. onion, garlic and potatoes
- Beans vs. tomatoes, peppers, alliums
- Cabbage vs. tomatoes and peppers
- Carrots vs. dill, radish
- Cucumber vs. tomato, sage
- Lettuce vs. celery, cabbage, parsley
- Tomatoes vs. beans, dill, brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower)
- Peppers vs. beans, broccoli, cabbage
- Potato vs. tomato and cucumber
- Nasturtium vs. radish and cauliflower
- Basil vs. sage
- Chives vs. beans and peas
- Dill vs. carrots and tomatoes
Summing it up
Although companion planting would work on a bigger scale, I found it beneficial for a balcony garden, where space is a major issue. I had not only a good outcome in terms of quantity, but it also gave me a chance to have a bigger variety of herbs this year. I can summarize the companion groups I tried as follows:
- Tomatoes - basil - parsley - nasturtium - marigolds - borage
- Cucumbers - chives - chamomile - marigold - dill
- Bell peppers - marjoram - parsley - nasturtium
- Sage - rosemary - oregano - mint (separate from above but in very close proximity)