People seem to be planting gardens everywhere right now in eastern Kentucky. Raising Food for Family to Eat, Sell and Trade is as old as the hills we live in. Families pass down garden techniques, secrets and seeds from generation to generation. The Grow Appalachia Program at the Cowan Community Center is a big part of over 108 family gardens in 2021. I love being part of growing food in an area that has 3 and 4 generations of families working together in their small family gardens and big farms. The Cowan Community Center has been a part of bringing families and communities together for over 50 years.
Growing a garden is similar to building a community. People and Plants need good companions to thrive. In plant communities, certain plants support each other while others just don’t get along. Time-tested garden wisdom holds that certain plants grown close together become helpmates. Plants, like people, compete for resources, space & nutrients.
It’s helpful to think of building good plant communities when planning your garden. I read that the way your lay out your vegetable garden is crucial. You should avoid planting vegetables in large patches or long rows and interplant with flowers and herbs. Large groupings of one type of vegetable serve as a beacon to problematic pests and if you mix in flowers and herbs, it becomes more difficult for pests to find your veggies. The scent of flowers and herbs, as well as the change up in color, is thought to confuse pests. Certain flowers and herbs also attract beneficial insects to your garden. In the building of a community of people, that is true too. If we mix ‘veggies, flowers and herbs’, we have good companions and can confuse the pest and the community works together to thrive.
Any reference to companion planting should mention the Native American “Three Sister Planting”. This age old grouping involves growing corn, beans and squash – often pumpkin – in the same area. As the corn stalks grow, beans naturally find support by climbing up the stalk. Beans, as all legumes, fix nitrogen in the soil, which supports the large nutritional needs of corn. Squash grows rapidly and the large squash leaves shade out weeds and serve as natural weed block. Good plant companions work in support of each other.
Many long time gardeners swear that growing certain plants together improves flavor as well. Garden wisdom and experience supports the belief of traditional beneficial plant companions. As I spend time in the garden this summer with my grandchildren, I hope to teach them companion planting garden wisdom and how plants are like people in many ways.