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Companion Planting

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When we fall in love, the phenomenon is referred to as "chemistry". So it is in the plant world. "Allelochemics" is a field of ecology that researches transmission of powerful chemical substances between plant species. Plant organisms "connect" and "communicate" either good vibes or bad.

When we fall in love, the phenomenon is referred to as "chemistry". So it is in the plant world. "Allelochemics" is a field of ecology that researches transmission of powerful chemical substances between plant species. Plant organisms "connect" and "communicate" either good vibes or bad. They fall in love and thus enhance each other's growth! Or else they don't like one another and growth is stunted.

It's true! It's science!

Plants have other useful capabilities.

Wormwood is a bitter herb that is medicinally useful in liver complaints. But it's also used as a garden border to keep out unwelcome cats. And it's attractive to use in a container along with other herbs and summer annuals. Pick it for tea when your liver needs a lift!

Alfalfa is valuable as nutritious animal feed. It also builds soil. The roots of this legume go so deep into the ground (20 to 30 feet) that they will pull up iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and other minerals from the subsoil and make them available to other plants.

Beans don't like garlic but they love corn. In fact, if you plant the corn early enough to get a head start, your beans will lovingly climb and intertwine the stalks. Beans also add nitrogen to the soil. Corn thrives on nitrogen. And bush beans in the potato patch will deter the Colorado potato beetle, a common pest that infests commercial potato crops. All varieties of bush beans like cucumbers and celery. Just mix and match 'em. Beans are friendly folk. Plant bush beans among your strawberries for mutual satisfaction. Beets like bush beans but do not combine with the pole variety, for some reason. Beets like lettuce, though. And cabbage.

The cabbage family (Brassicaceae) includes cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, brussels sprouts, rutabaga. Even turnip! Herbs to repel the cabbageworm are helpful here. These include hyssop, thyme and wormwood along with aromatic dill, celery, chamomile, sage, peppermint and rosemary. But cabbage has its unfriendly side. Don't plant cabbage with tomatoes and strawberries cabbage does not respond favourably to them. All brassicas are called "heavy feeders" and thrive on compost and trace minerals. If your cabbage and broccoli do not "head up," the problem is in the soil. But don't give them chemical fertilizer. Dig well-rotted manure into the ground or the container and watch the result!

If you're making up herb containers plant a broccoli or cabbage seedling or two among the herbs. But don't combine broccoli with tomatoes, pole beans or strawberries. (You wouldn't anyway!)

Basil, however, loves tomatoes. Naturally. But basil and rue dislike each other intensely. Keep that chemistry in mind when you're planning your herb garden or containers. Rue foliage is pretty but bitter, which may be why it doesn't like sweet basil and vice versa.

It's important to remember that no matter what size your garden a window box, a space in your local community plot or your entire backyard the principle of compatible plant chemistry still applies. Borage, for instance, is not the most useful herb for its own sake. It can be a nuisance when it seeds itself and untidy when it flops over in the rain. But borage provides organic potassium, calcium and other minerals to the soil. The blue, star-like flowers make a lovely garnish. Honeybees love borage. They also love lobelia, which is a medicinal herb that has long lost its good reputation, thanks to the evil gossip of Health Canada. (Don't make medicinal use of your lobelia herb unless it's organically grown.)

Back to honeybees. Cultivate beneficial insects in your garden pots and plot. Watch for the blossoms that seem to attract pollinating insects and make a note of those plants to look for next year. It's food for the soul to sit on your patio or a strategic chair in your herb garden and listen to the comfortable buzz of insect activity! Your garden is truly your best companion.

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