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Lucky girl that I am, I recently got to go on a little press trip to check out the Growing the Future  project at the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.

Essentially it is a food –planting project, which aims to teach local women agricultural and horticultural skills, with a bit of business and general life-skills thrown in to the mix too.  It is wonderful work that they are doing, but what really captured my imagination is the horticultural concept of companion planting, visible in all of the Growing the Future veggie patches.

Trellises set up for the tall plants to do their companion bit… © Catherine Sempill

Inspired by what I learnt at the project, I did a little more ‘rooting’ around on the web and discovered all of this:

Companion planting is a technique used in the cultivation of vegetables (and other plants) which involves planting complimentary species close to each other, thus maximising the use of soil nutrients, space and avoiding the use of chemicals. If done correctly, companion planting can keep weed and insect infestations at bay, increase production, enhance the flavour of your veggies and contribute to the environment (even the mini eco-system in your garden is worth caring for). Pesticides, after all, kill bugs – pests and friends alike, as well as birds and your pet rabbit, Bugsy.  They also destroy your soil over a long period and make further gardening endeavours fruitless.

  • Companion gardening to keep pests at bay…

Word on the garden path is that flowers are the answer. They draw them insects away from the veggie patch, and can also be used to attract insect-gobbling bird species.

Apparently flowers like alyssum work a treat, as well as herbs like garlic, chives and oregano.

companion flowers. companion gardening, veggie garden tips, horticultural practices
Decoy flower plants at the foot of the row of veggies attract bugs so your veggies remain intact. © Catherine Sempill
  • Companion planting to cope with weeds…

Tall plants like onions, parsnips and tomatoes, planted strategically, can prevent weeds from thriving by blocking out the sun. Alternatively you could use the weeds to your advantage in much the same way as you’d use the flowers i.e. as a decoy to attract the ‘bad’ bugs.

  • Companion planting to increase your yield…

This one is about being weary of which plants you place side-by-side. An example to avoid might be basil and tomato. This is for two reasons: Tomatoes grow relatively tall, thus blocking the light from the basil, preventing it from doing well. Tomatoes and basil also grow at similar speeds, thus the 2 plants are constantly in competition for soil nutrients.  A better combination might be corn and potatoes. The shade from the corn plants keeps the soil moist, providing good conditions for the potatoes.

vegetable garden success, growing cabbage, healthy vegetable garden, companion planting
If all goes according to plan, companion planting-wise, you might end up with giant, beautiful vegetables in the league of this here cabbage. © Catherine Sempill

And that friends, is the end of this mini-tutorial on companion planting. If, however, you wish to explore further visit this link:

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/companion-planting-guide-zmaz81mjzraw.aspx

What do you think? Have you tried companion gardening? Do you have any recommendations?

Kafunta Safaris
Catherine Sempill

Hey, Catherine here. I’m the new blogging intern at Africa Geographic. I graduated from UCT in 2010 after studying Media &Writing and then took off to work and travel my way through South America and learn a thing or two about the world. I came back with a Spanish repertoire, a few salsa moves and an intensified love for writing, blogging and ‘discovering’. It is these passions which landed me on the doorstep of Africa Geographic. Viva!