Welcome back “Vintage Homemaking Week” friends! If you’re just joining us, please click on Karen Ehman’s blog to connect with the rest of the bloggers taking part in this series.
To catch up with my “How to Garden Like Grandma” posts, click here to read about choosing the right garden for you and preparing your soil.
Today we’re talking about two of the coolest aspects of gardening: Companion Plants and Pollinators. Let’s jump in!
What is Companion Planting (CP)? CP is planting a diverse mix of plants in close proximity to each other that are beneficial to one another and ‘get along.’ Plants actually have friends and foes. Planting two ‘foes’ next to each other can cause one or both of them to wither and even die. Amazing, huh? How?
You may have heard of the “Three Sisters” as the most famous CP: corn, beans and squash are planted together on a small soil mound. Why plant these crops next to each other? Great question! The beans use the tall corn as a trellis. Squash is a dense ground cover which deters weeds from growing, soaking up nutrition that the beans/corn needs. And the beans provide their own nitrogen so the corn isn’t depleted.
What are the benefits of CP? The list is long!
- Growth Aid: Short plants deter weeds from growing that could harm tall plants. Tall plants offer shade and support to shorter plants.
- Natural Pest Deterrents: Pests will often find our veggies (a.k.a. their dinner) by smell. Potent smelling flowers and herbs repel insects, and even some animals, by confusing them. They aren’t sure which plant to eat!
- Natural Pest/Insect Attractors: Some CPs attract harmful pests to themselves and away from veggies.
~Other CPs attract beneficial insects (like spiders, praying mantis and ladybugs) that eat harmful pests.
- Space Savers: Interspersing fast growing, tall plants in with shorter, viney plants gives you the freedom to triple or quadruple the amount of crops you harvest. Some will grow up, while others grow out.
- Avoid Monoculture: Having one crop in an area is like hosting a buffet for pests, but several rows of plants of different colors, aromas and times they ripen doesn’t give pests who like one particular type of veggie much to munch on.
What are common CPs?
That’s a great question! One day I may come up with my own list, but honestly, there are so many great ones already out there that it’d be crazy right now to reinvent the wheel! So below is our favorite chart that we use that has proven successful. However, if you don’t see a plant on here that you want to grow then a quick internet search should provide you with its ‘friends’ and ‘foes’.
Pollinators and Pollenizers!
Odds are you’ve heard of pollinators such as honey bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. But did you know YOU can be a pollinator too? How? Easy!
That old saying about the birds and the bees is spot on. Pollinators move pollen from the male anthers of the flower to the female stigma of the flower to accomplish fertilization. There’s a whole lot of other scientific facts we won’t get in to, but needless to say, the girl flowers need the male flower’s pollen in order for their veggies/fruit to grow to maturation.
Bees and butterflies, birds and bats are all wonderful pollinators. They collect the nectar from the flowering part of the plant, and while doing so, get pollen on their bodies. Flitting from flower to flower, these pollinators take pollen from male flowers and deposit it on the female flower, hopefully causing fertilization!
Sadly, natural pollinators, especially bees, are on a rapid decline. And if you live in a neighborhood like we do, you’re even less likely to have many of them.
You have two options if natural pollinators are low:
1. YOU be the pollinator! This is an easy, yet tedious task. Research your plant to find out which flower is the male and which is the female. Open the male flower and either pull out the inside or swab it with a cotton swab or paint brush (the point is to collect pollen). Very gently open the female flower and lightly swab the male flower parts, paint brush or cotton swab around the inside of the female flower.
2. Plant flowers that attract natural pollinators. We have a row of sunflowers, several butterfly bushes, and a whole lot of other flowers spaced strategically around our yard to invite pollinators in. We placed flowers in a diamond pattern around our yard to help natural pollinators fly over our veggies. When our yard was just grass, we’d see a few bees here and there and never saw butterflies. Now that our backyard is a garden, we generally have 50 or more bees and a dozen or so butterflies, plus a ton of birds! I’m sure there are bats, but I’m not usually out at night to watch for them.
Between the two options above, I would recommend inviting natural pollinators in to your yard. You’ll have beautiful flowers (many which could be edible if you plan for it) and a lot less work to do! One of my favorite rules of thumb: let the garden work for you, not the other way around! With proper and wise planning, you can limit much of the excess grunt work that deters many from gardening.
I once raked under a row of azalea bushes and uncovered more than old leaves. A large underground nest of bees swarmed (swum? swammed?) out at me and liberally stung me. More than 30 times. Ouch! But I want to reassure you that neither Josh nor I have been stung in our yard. We haven’t even been chased by a bee. In fact, we often work side-by-side with our pollinators. Sure, they get a little flustered when we have to shake up their feeding time by picking veggies next to flowers, but they always go straight back to their flowers … not us!
Last, but Not Least: Pollenizers
I had a blueberry bush last year that budded with fruit, but the small, hard, bitter balls weren’t edible. Lesson learned: fruit trees and bushes come in two types- self-fruitful and cross-pollinated. If you are growing fruit, you’ll need to take into account their special pollination needs.
1. Self-Fruitful trees/bushes pollen from the same kind of tree/bush as it is. This means you don’t necessarily need a different variety for your fruit to set (i.e. be okay to eat).
2. Cross-Pollinated trees/bushes need pollen from a different variety of the same type of tree. For instance, we have three different varieties of blueberry bushes planted near each other so their pollen can mix it up!
What needs Cross-Pollination? Apple, Pear, Blueberry, Japanese Plums, sweet Cherries.