Posts Tagged ‘Herbs’

Companion Planting

Each spring as we make plans for planting our vegetable gardens, one of our guides is the ancient tradition of companion planting. Companion plants are mutually beneficial, helping each other by increasing nutrient uptake, pollination, productivity, or by controlling pests. You should also be aware that certain plants should not be planted near each other as they will hinder productivity.

Using companion plants to repel pests is part of a practice known as integrated pest management or IPM, which is a holistic approach to preventing plant damage. Using IPM techniques will almost always solve a pest problem and save you from having to use pesticides.

Further down the path of polyculture are practices such as intercropping and trap cropping, but today we’re going to keep it simple — sort of. A comprehensive exploration of companion planting would take a book-length post and we’re already late with this one, so we’ll stick to the most commonly planted vegetables.

Let’s start by saying if you could only plant one plant to prevent pest damage, that would be the marigold. This little soldier repels all manner of bad bugs. Plant lots of it around your vegetable garden. Nasturtiums are another star of pest control, as is oregano. You’ll start to see some patterns emerging as you learn more.


Companions: basil, parsley, tomato.

Pest control: marigold deters beetles.


Companions: beet (bush beans only), cabbage family, carrot, celery, chard, corn (see Three Sisters), cucumber, eggplant, pea, potato, radish, strawberry.

Pest control: marigold, nasturtium, rosemary and summer savory deter bean beetles.

Helpers: summer savory improves flavor.

Don’t plant near: garlic, fennel, onion and shallots.


Companions: bush bean, cabbage family, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion.

Helpers: catnip, mint. Garlic improves growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: runner or pole beans (stunts growth) and mustard.

Cabbage Family: (bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips)

Companions: beet, celery, chard, lettuce, onion, potato, spinach.

Pest control: catnip, hyssop, mint, rosemary, sage, tansy and thyme deter cabbage moths. Mint deters ants. Nasturtium deters beetles and aphids. Tansy deters cutworm.

Helpers: chamomile and garlic improve growth and flavor. Dill improves growth and health. Mint improves flavor and health.

Don’t plant near: kohlrabi and tomatoes stunt each other’s growth.


Companions: bean, lettuce, onions, pea, pepper, radish and tomato.

Pest control: rosemary and sage deter carrot fly.

Don’t plant near: dill retards growth.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, tomato.

Pest control: chive, garlic and nasturtium deter aphids.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, and onion.


Companions: bean, cucumber, melon, parsley, pea, potato, pumpkin, squash.

Pest control: marigold and white geranium deter Japanese beetles.

Don’t plant near: tomato attracts the same worm.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, corn, pea, radish, tomato.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Tansy deters ants, beetles, bugs and flying insects. Oregano deters pests in general.

Helpers: nasturtium improves growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: sage.


Companions: bean, pepper.

Pest control: marigold deters nematodes.

Helpers: tarragon, mint.


Companions: beet, cabbage family, carrot, onion, radish, strawberry.

Pest control: chives and garlic deter aphids.


Companions: corn, pumpkins, radish, squash.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Mint deters cabbage moth and ants. Oregano deters pests in general.

Helpers: mint improves flavor and health.


Companions: beet, cabbage, carrot, chard, lettuce, pepper, strawberry, tomato.

Helpers: chamomile and summer savory improve growth and flavor.


Companions: asparagus, corn, tomato.


Companions: bean, carrot, corn, cucumber, radish, turnip.

Pest control: chive deters aphids.

Helpers: mint improves health and flavor.

Don’t plant near: garlic and onion will stunt growth.


Companions: carrot, eggplant, onion, tomato.


Companions: beans, cabbage family, corn, eggplant, pea.

Pest control: marigold deters beetles. Horseradish provides general protection when planted at the corners of the potato patch.

Don’t plant near: tomatoes are attacked by the same blight.


Companions: corn, melon, squash.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Oregano provides general protection from pests.


Companions: corn, melons, squash.

Helpers: chervil and nasturtium improve growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: hyssop.


Companions: cabbage family, strawberry.

Pest control: borage deters worms. Marigold deters beetles. Nasturtiums deters beetles and squash bugs. Oregano provides general protection.

Helpers: borage improves growth and health.


Companions: bean, lettuce, onion, spinach, thyme.

Pest control: borage improves resistance to insects and disease. A border of thyme will deter worms.

Don’t plant near: cabbage.


Companions: asparagus, carrot, celery, cucumber, onion, parsley, pepper.

Pest control: basil repels flies and mosquitoes. Borage deters tomato worm. Marigold deters nematodes and tomato worm and pests in general.

Helpers: Basil, bee balm, borage, chives, and mint improve flavor and growth.

Don’t plant near: corn attracts the same worm. Mature dill retards tomato growth (although young dill helps growth and health). Kohlrabi stunts tomato growth. Potatoes attract the same blight.


Companions: pea.

Many thanks to Cass County Extension where I got much of this information. If you want to know more about companion planting there are two book titles that I ran across over and over again while researching this post: Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte and Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham.

Apologies to folks in the warmer climes for not getting to this sooner, but there are still many tips that you can use this season.


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Mary Beth and I were talking about a comment we ran across on a Garden Rant post wherein the commenter was critical of many garden blogs that “contain too many personal anecdotes…and not a lot of useful gardening information.”  Now, in case you didn’t notice, we love our personal anecdotes. It’s one of the reasons we do this blog and that’s not likely to change anytime soon, but we also realized that we’re probably guilty of not providing enough in the way of gardening information. And if there’s anything we have in abundance, it’s gardening information, advice, tips, etc. Whatever you want to call it, between the two of us, we have about a bajillion years worth of it. So we decided to add a new element to our blog. Starting today we’re going to do a regular post (every week or two) of gardening and beekeeping tips. We hope you find them useful.

Garden Gift Tip

In keeping with the holiday season, our very first tip is about where to find a great gift for the gardener on your list. And, you probably won’t be surprised to hear this has a little story attached to it. When I was feeling very down in the dumps (and I mean loooow down) one day last spring, the UPS truck pulled up to my house. I thought that surely the driver had the wrong address, but no that package was for me. I opened it up to find the most beautiful set of green Vermont slate garden markers for my newly planted herb garden from my very best and oldest friend, Liz. Those markers‚ and the thought behind them, really lifted my spirits and they’ll do the same for whomever you give them to.

Liz and her husband make laser-etched Vermont slate garden markers (and other useful stuff). You’ll be amazed at the finely-etched details of the herbs, vegetables and perennials on the markers — really lovely.  Aside from being beautiful, the markers are very sturdy and hold up to any kind of weather. So if you’re looking for a great gift for a gardener, or anyone else on your list, Vermont Slate Images is the ticket. Check out their website.

Beekeeping Tip

This goes under the heading of “slightly weird things you probably didn’t know, but should.” Never, and we mean NEVER, go near your beehive while eating, or just after eating a banana.

It turns out that when bees detect an intruder and sting it, they release an alarm pheromone that contains a chemical that calls other bees to the defense of the hive. This same chemical is found in bananas (and pears, too). Three guesses as to what happens to you with your banana breath!

Two tips — and that’s just the beginning. Check back in a week or so for more.

And wrapping up on yet another personal note: blogging has many rewards and one of the best so far revealed itself this week. We were thrilled to receive a comment (we love comments) on our last post from Christine. She also mentioned that, by the way, she might be our cousin and, amazingly, she is!

Not to air the family laundry, but there was a bit of some people not talking to other people going on for years and years. But now, luck and good fortune have connected us once again and we couldn’t be happier. You just never know!

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Mary Beth: Ray and I were under the weather on Labor Day weekend, so I decided  to make a nutritious soup using all the wonderful vegetables in my garden. As I was picking the ingredients for the soup, I was thinking about the article I read on the Garden Rant blog where the author mentions the occasional bug she may unknowingly serve her family. It made me chuckle, but it made me buck up too — if I don’t eat that kale that looks like it was blasted by buckshot, then what’s the sense of having an organic garden?! So I grabbed a handful of that too. I had to triple wash it and really rub those leaves to get rid of the bugs. I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, I got through it and the soup was delicious. And maybe, just maybe, the missed bug or two were actually the medicine we needed to get better!

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Garden Vegetable Soup with Barley (bugs optional!)

  • 1 bunch kale, with stems, roughly chopped  (I started throwing the entire kale leaves, stems and all, in the soup when I read my niece Kristin’s blog. She has a great blog on nutrition and food. You can read about the benefits and healing properties of food at foodbykristin.)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, with stems, roughly chopped
  • 2 large beets with their greens, beets cubed, greens, with stems, chopped
  • 1 medium Trombetta squash, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 2 large yellow tomatoes, cubed
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cubed
  • 1 large leek, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • handful of basil, roughly chopped
  • 3 small onions, chopped
  • lots of garlic, smashed
  • oregano, sage, parsley, sage, tarragon, rosemary — whatever you have on hand
  • Barley about 1/4 cup, or more
  • filtered water
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil until tender. Throw in rest of veggies and saute until tender. Add basil, sea salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir. Add water, about 4 – 5 cups, and barley. Bring to a boil. Add the fresh herbs. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

I don’t worry about too much about measuring ingredients for the soup. I just add whatever is ripe in the garden, season with lots of fresh herbs, add salt and pepper and add enough water to make plenty of broth. Whatever ingredients I use, it always makes a thick delicious broth and it’s really good for you. Just don’t look too closely… no, seriously I got them all!

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Mary Beth: Memorial Day weekend on Block Island was a busy one and if it hadn’t started to rain I’d still be out there. The reason I was so busy was that this is the year Ray and I decided to come up with a real solution to the deer problem — well, I decided and Ray graciously offered to help make it possible (encouraged no doubt by my promise of delicious home-baked goodies).
In years past I’ve relied on some temporary netting and deer repellant spray made from a recipe I learned in my Master Gardener training. These tactics deterred the deer most of the time, but I was so tired of re-spraying the veggies after watering them and of the deer trampling the plants while trying to find something that didn’t taste bad. Plus I like eating the cherry tomatoes off the vine and it grossed me out to think about the rotten raw eggs I’d sprayed on them.

We’d talked for years about a more permanent solution and a few weeks ago we finally ordered the supplies for a deer fence. Ray found some untreated Atlantic White Cedar that he had milled by a one-man shop in Massachusetts. The mill trimmed out twenty-two 4” x 4” x 8’ rough-cut posts which we set into 2-foot deep holes. We compacted the soil around the posts and then stapled 7’ black PVC 2” x 2” fencing to them.


Once we got it all set up, the posts were about 6’ tall and the PVC fencing stood at about 5’ 8”. The black fencing is great because when you look at it straight on it’s almost invisible. Ever the perfectionist, Ray decided the fence needed to be “prettied up”, so he beveled the tops of the posts. And he was right; it’s amazing how a small detail can make such a big difference.

I confess that when I first saw those honkin’ big posts in the ground I had my doubts, but it looks really nice and the fence is attracting lots of attention and more than a few compliments. (Hopefully it’ll attract some new clients for Ray as well.)

We still need to add finishing touches like gates, but the hard part is over and, with luck, I won’t have to use a posthole digger anytime soon! Best of all, it will be so nice not to wake up in the morning worrying about the damage the deer inflicted on the vegetable garden. Not that I’m wishing ill on my neighbors, but I hope the fence discourages the deer enough that they will take our property off their list of places to munch.


Another benefit of the fence came as a pleasant surprise. As you know from previous posts, I’m a bit of a freak and another thing I’m freaky about is feeling confined. I was a little worried that I might not like working inside the fenced area. What actually happened was the fence made me focus on the task at hand! I’m pretty distractible and if I notice something in the periphery, I’ll wander over to it and lose track of my original task. Now I can’t do that anymore. I wonder if I can apply this technique to other areas of my life? Small portable fencing anyone?

In addition to the fence project, I decided to plant out half of my tomatoes. They were getting quite large and I wasn’t sure when I’d get back into the garden. (Between the persistent rain and the backlog of clients that are eager for me to begin the season’s work in their gardens, it may be a while till I can tend to my own.) I spread out the lettuce plants in between the tomatoes and it felt great to see everything coming together.

I also planted some plants I bought for the bees: scabiosa, white salvia, baptista, more lavender, Joe Pye weed and lemon balm. Next I found the 37 dahlias that I’d stored away this winter in the cellar and put those in the ground. Then I fertilized all the roses and gave everything a dousing of fish emulsion with EM-1 mixed in. I was cross-eyed with exhaustion and shocked that it was 7 pm when I finally made it into the house. Yup, I’m so glad I took two days off from work!

The Block Island Bee Report

My bees are generally doing well, but there was some weird thing going on with one of the frames. For the second time the bees had built a comb that bubbled out in the lower brood box and they’re able to get behind it. I took the last one off, but this one was bigger. It had lots of larvae and they seemed to really be busy on it so I didn’t have the heart to pry it off.

The bees were edgier than usual and seemed to be pissed off — maybe it was the storm that was brewing, so I closed up everything and let them be. I’ve decided to let the whole thing play out and see what happens.

The bees had really loaded up the bottom brood box. The second brood box was coming along too and they had 3 frames built out with comb. Another frame was loaded with a different color pollen. Pretty neat! Overall, I noticed there were a lot more bees. Because it was so crowded, I didn’t see the queen this time, but she’s clearly been very busy laying eggs.


I got two new tools last week and they made it easier to handle the frames. One tool is a frame perch and the other a pry and grip tool. I recommend both of them to the beekeeping readers.


Flowers that are blooming this week: clematis, rosa rugosa, rhododendron, iris, columbine, clover, buttercups, amsonia, allium, red honeysuckle, purple salvia, blueberries and wisteria.  Summer’s almost in full swing!

Southern California News

Barbara: Traveling and work demands have left a big gap in our blog, but I’m happy to be back with some time to catch up.

There’s not a whole lot happening in the garden. Our weather has been pretty gloomy between “real” clouds and the persistent marine layer. My natives seem fine, but I think they’re sulking about the lack of sunshine. They’re bound to start growing when the sun returns. Of course, by then the heat will be blasting, and I’ll have to remember to be sure they get enough water this summer. Mary Beth tells me that the number one reason drought-tolerant plants fail to make it in the first year is that they don’t get enough water because these plants aren’t truly drought-tolerant until they get established. Of course, the number two reason they don’t make it is because of too much water. I’ll just need to pay attention and get this mix just right.

This weekend I went to the nursery determined to stick to just returning something I didn’t need. How may of you want to guess what happened next? Right. I came home with more plants. Sigh.


At least I was a little more selective than usual. I have a little atrium where I decided to try to grow herbs for cooking and garnishing. The nursery had a nice selection of organics that should do well in part shade and I chose plants that bees like. I bought lemon balm, lovage, German chamomile, purple sage, and onion chives. I’ll also plant two “bee pots” — containers of plants that bees love — in a sunnier spot. For those, I got hyssop, which smells amazing, and borage. That should make the little wild foragers here in Irvine happy.

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