The Ground Rules
Home Farm tells us how to create a community of diverse plants that grow happily together.
Home Farm shares its knowledge about creating a community of diverse plants that grow happily together.
Spring has well and truly sprung! We can now start planting out all those delicious heat-loving fruits and vegetables. In the last column, we covered how to set up a weed-free and fertile growing space (now on ourplacemagazine.co.nz). In this column, we’re diving into planting out those spaces to create healthy and resilient plant communities.
First, let’s set up the framework. Keep one vision in your mind throughout this process — the layers
of an established forest. This is what we’re essentially trying to mimic, just on a smaller scale and
with vegetables instead of trees. A forest has many layers of plants, all with different characteristics, functions and needs. We have the sun-loving canopy layer taking up the space at the top, all the
way down to the more shaded ground-covering layer at soil level. This framework will help us decide what to plant and where to plant it.
An important question to ask before planting anything is: how much space will this plant
ultimately take up? This is helpful when deciding how much space to give each one. Planting
too close causes stress, as plants compete with each other for sunlight and nutrients in the soil. Overcrowding also restricts airflow, which can lead to disease. Spacing plants further apart is
the safer option, however the aim is to utilise all the growing space to its full potential. Plant and
sow with the end result in mind.
Now we’ve established the framework of how to plant, it’s time to fill in those growing spaces with
the plants themselves! You may know that certain plants grow well with others, while some plants
can actually have a negative effect when grown together. We want to group plants that encourage each other to live their best lives and to grow into healthy and nutrient-dense kai. It’s called ‘mutually beneficial relationships’ and is the basis for companion planting or ‘guilds’. Beautifully worded
by Frida Lotz-Keegan of PermaDynamics: “A guild is a community of plants working together in harmony over space and time. By placing plants together in a specific configuration, we create an interdependent ecosystem where the needs of one plant are provided for by the existence of others.”
Last column we recommended options of seeds to sow as ground cover; now we’re going to expand on those recommendations. Below are some combinations, or guilds, for you to try at your place
— they are centred around a primary plant, which is one that usually lives the longest and takes
up the most space. They also take up the most nutrients, so planting them with other primary plants causes them to compete for nutrients in the soil and can have a negative effect on growth. Within these guilds, we’ve outlined what to avoid planting near the primary plants, options for secondary crops (to plant around the primary plant), and ideas of what seeds to sow as a ground cover crop.
Tomato (determinate*), eggplant & capsicum
Avoid: Brassicas, sweetcorn, potato.
Secondary crop: Asparagus, bush beans, celery, onions, leeks, chives, garlic, cucumber, borage, mint, sage, thyme, oregano.
Ground cover seeds: Basil, parsley, rocket, coriander, spinach, radish, carrots, leaf lettuce, nasturtium, marigold.
*Determinate means bush, rather than vine, which require way less maintenance.
Broccoli, brussels sprout, cauliflower & kale
Avoid: Tomato, eggplant, capsicum, beans, peas, sweetcorn, pumpkin, melon, asparagus, radish.
Secondary crop: Potato, onions, leek, garlic, celery, silverbeet, chard.
Ground cover seeds: Spinach, beetroot, leaf lettuce, parsley, coriander, nasturtium, marigold.
Avoid: Tomato, eggplant, capsicum.
Secondary crop: Bush beans, head lettuce, cabbage, silverbeet, chard.
Ground cover seeds: Basil, coriander, leaf lettuce, rocket, parsley, radish, spinach, nasturtium, marigold.
Climbing beans & peas
Avoid: The onion family
Secondary crop: Tomato (determinate), eggplant, capsicums, zucchini, cabbage.
Ground cover seed: Carrots, radish, spinach, rocket, leaf lettuce, parsley, coriander, mint.
Avoid: Tomato, eggplant, capsicum
Secondary crop: Climbing beans and peas, zucchini, potato.
Ground cover seedlings: Cucumber, melon, pumpkin, nasturtium.
Note: Any onion or relative (leek, garlic and chives), don’t grow well near the legume family (beans and peas). Plant them well away from each other. Any extra space can be filled with edible herbs and flowers that deter pest insects and attract good ones, especially ones that feed the bees! Keep the same framework in mind before planting, thinking about the space it will eventually take up and how long it will hold that space for. Here’s some of our favourites:
Basil, chives (plant away from beans and peas), coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme.
Alyssum, borage, calendula, chamomile, lavender, marigold, nasturtium, sunflower. There you have
it — a weed-free and fertile space with plant communities that support and encourage each other
to reach their full potential. Get to know the plants you want to grow and look into various ways
of growing them; get experimenting with companion combos! Remember to keep it dense (use every bit of the growing space) and keep it diverse (more species = more biodiversity). A monthly liquid feed will keep your plants happy and healthy and growing hard!
Hot tip for planting seedlings
Before you plant seedlings, fill a container with water so you can completely submerge the seedling’s container — we use a wheelbarrow, which allows us to move it around. Soak for at least 30 seconds, then drain and plant. You could add liquid nutrient solution to the water to kick start growth. We use
a liquid seaweed solution and after we’ve planted, we feed the garden with the leftover water.
For more information on preparing your soil for planting, see Home Farm’s first column Lay the Groundwork. The Home Farm team transforms spaces of any size into edible landscapes.
For more info: @homefarm.nz email@example.com