Secrets from a Grower: Companion Planting That Works and Other Perennial Ideas
By Women Who Farm Team
May 13, 2017
Think of a seed. An onion seed is the size of a pin, and yet Walla Walla onions, when matured, can be bigger than a small melon! You would think that after a few years of planting, I would understand all this a bit more. But the truth: I am just starting to scratch the surface of what is truly possible.
As a market farmer, food is my main agenda. I am trying to grow as much food as possible on just over an acre. Through small-scale farming, I am learning what plants can be grown together to maximize space.
These are the plants that can be grown together thus optimizing growing space:
- Plant lettuce/bok choy transplants between your broccoli. For this to work, make sure your broccoli and lettuce are the same stage of growth. The lettuce should grow fast enough so that the broccoli doesn't fully shade it. It will slightly shade, and have a cooling effect that lettuce loves during the warm summer days. Oakleaf varieties do best.
- Plant basil at the base of your tomato plants. The basil loves the heat of a greenhouse, and the gentle shade of the tomato plant.
- Green onions can be planted along the sides of any bed to add more variety and utilize more growing space. They also have pest deferring abilities.
- Calendula and comfrey at the base of fruit trees. This helps to form a ground cover. During the growing season of the comfrey, when it starts to get really big, you can break the leaves and mulch the base of the tree. Chop and drop.
- Strawberries at the base of fruit trees, or anywhere you need ground cover and won't be walking too much. This the best kind of edible ground cover.
- Plant rhubarb and fruit trees together on land that is less arable. Perennials do well on soil that is difficult to work. The rhubarb fills in the spaces between the growing fruit trees. Grow more food with this dense planting of perennials.
- Plant borage and other pollinator plants near squash, strawberries, and tomatoes. Attract bees to pollinate. See our article here to learn about how to plant a pollinator garden.
- Plant a medicine garden. Include useful herbs and berries. Comfrey, hops, raspberries, mint, yarrow, strawberries, lemon balm, rhubarb, sage and chamomile are just some of the useful plants I grow for medicine.
- Plant the Three Sisters. This is a indigenous way to grow corn, beans and squash. The beans nitrogen fixing qualities feed the squash and corn. The corn allows the beans to be naturally trellised. The squash add ground cover and is a staple food crop.
Some more thoughts on perennials:
As a market farmer, I can only cultivate so much land. So at my farm we are taking the land, that is less suitable for annual crops and planting fruit trees, bushes, and berries.
Growing more perennials is an excellent way to grow more food. It took me a few years to really see their potential. I was so focused on annual crop production.
Here are interesting ways we plant perennials:
- Rows of figs. Keep them short and bushy. Harvest from the ground.
- Rows of fruit trees and rhubarb. Throw in some herbs on any extra bare soil.
- Rows of kiwi plants. Trellis these.
- Rows of grapes, interplanted with calendula
- Asparagus planted with dwarf fruit trees.