Good Companions

The Bay Area is blessed with a mild climate that permits year-round gardening, but many of us don’t get the urge to plant until Spring warms up our soil. This year, you might consider some plants’ own preferences before you sow the seeds.
Long before Europeans imported most of our common garden vegetables, Native Americans were taking advantage of companion planting. The “Three Sisters” — corn, beans, and squash — enjoy a synergistic relationship that also benefits the soil and the growers. In order to grow tall and strong, corn must draw heavily on the soil’s fertility. Fortunately, beans can help replace nitrogen in the soil, and live corn stalks make great beanpoles on which the vines can climb. Beans and corn are vertical growers that leave bare much of the soil at their bases. Squash sprawls, creating a blanket that helps shade the soil. As gardeners, we enjoy the efficient use of space. Our bodies appreciate carbohydrates from the corn, protein from the beans, and vitamin A from the squash.
The Three Sisters are not the only plants that grow well together. Gardeners over the millennia have noted that certain plants thrive alongside certain other plants.
Tomatoes do well with carrots, peppers, celery, and onions, among others. They should be kept away from potatoes.
Beans and peas, nitrogen-fixers, do well with many vegetables, but not with beets, onions, or garlic.
Members of the brassica family, including cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, go well with beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, potatoes, and spinach. They don’t do as well with beans, tomatoes, or strawberries.
Cucumbers like the company of tomatoes, corn, lettuces, and legumes, but dislike potatoes and herbs.
Many plant combinations have been observed to benefit all parties involved. Experimentation will help you discover which companions thrive in your growing environment!

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