Between pumpkin, beans and corn there is a very strong relationship that is founded on the principles of protecting one another from external factors. In the backyard gardening business this is referred to as companion planting.
Khayelitsha’s “Ghetto Gardener” Ludwe Qamata says just like with the notion “umntu-ngumntu-ngabantu”, meaning “I am because we are”, crops help one another in their journey to becoming healthy staples.
“In companion planting we talk about diversifying your crop and planting according to crop families. Here, one crop is meant to protect the other. For instance, if one crop can withstand the pressure of the sun, it should be planted with one that cannot, so that they can share the energy absorbed by the stronger one from the sun,” says Qamata.
What is companion planting?
According to the co-founder of Abalimi bezekhaya Rob Small, companion planting is necessary for the health of the gardener’s crop.
For instance, onions can grow easily between cabbage, and onions help keep cabbage free of pests and disease. This means you need not spend money on fertilisers to repel pests from your garden.
Backyard gardener Nomalanga Ruiters from Cape Town says companion planting has been working well for her as a backyard gardener in the wetlands in Khayelitsha.
“We have a very big challenge as Cape Flats backyard gardeners. Accessibility to quality fertile soil is very limited, and companion planting has been helping me maintain a good fertile soil without the use of fertilisers, and I love it.
“I plant many different crops, and the cabbage family often gets troubled by pests like cutworms and caterpillars. This family plant group consists of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi. So, to relieve this family from the strain of these pests, we plant crops like mint, nasturtium, parsley, nasturtium and garlic,” Ruiters adds.
Take advice from a veteran
Small shares his companion planting expertise and says “tomatoes love marigolds because the marigolds discourage pests and disease in tomatoes”.
“Maize, beans and pumpkins grow well together because the maize stands tall and provides some shade. The beans fertilise the maize through their roots and keep the soil loose, and the pumpkin covers the soil preventing it from being scorched by the sun,” he says.
The nutrient factor
For their nutrient sharing nature, Small says he personally likes onions to grow between most other crops like cabbage and spinach, but tomatoes and pumpkin don’t like onions.
Small’s six personal favourite companion planting mechanisms:
- Make carrots your garden’s best buddy. Plant it in rows between most other crops since they keep the soil aerated while drawing up nutrients to share with other crops.
- Bush beans do the most when planted between most other crops since they produce nitrogen from their roots and help the others to grow.
- Marigold flowers are beautiful and easy to grow between most other crops; so you can pick the flowers but mostly because they chase many insect pests and diseases away.
- Nasturtium flowers grown in corners around the garden are edible in salads while they also attract pests from crops.
- Some pests like aphids and white cabbage butterfly prefer the nasturtiums and stay away from the crops.
- Growing herbs around the garden also helps to control pests and disease and are good for cooking and medicine.