Onions Make Good Neighbors

Hello Locavores!

I wrote a couple of weeks ago (and incessantly last year) about our plight with the mighty cutworm. I’ve mentioned the techniques that we have tried to combat them, especially our placing hundreds and hundreds of cardboard collars around our little plants to create a physical barrier. A number of folks have suggested (not the least of whom being my lovely wife) that we try some companion planting to deter the little beasts. Companion planting is the concept of planting two or more plant types in close proximity in order to gain a benefit from the plants’ interaction such as reduced pest pressure and/or increased plant vigor. Why did I not try this sooner? Do I not claim to be into sustainable farming– and hasn’t companion planting been going on for only hundreds of years? Well, whatever my reasons for waiting so long to try it, I feel that we have benefited greatly from interplanting herbs and onions throughout our veggie crop this fall. Our most striking success thus far (knock on wood) has been our little carrot bed. Last year at this time we were watching the last handful carrots get mowed down from our 150ft bed of carrots. It was exceedingly depressing to behold. This year, after Jon read about the repelling effect that aliums (onions and garlic) have on many bugs, we decided to mix the onions and garlic in with our carrots. The carrot tops are now close to a foot high and the dreaded cutworm has shaved off insignificantly few carrots.

Now why does this work? Truthfully I don’t really know, but there are some logical connections that can reasonably explain some benefits of companion planting. The fact that plants emit chemicals and bugs can sense these chemicals is one of the most important factors. Other aspects of plants, like the nitrogen fixing nature of legumes or simply the speed with which some plants can create a thick groundcover, can create positive relationships with other plants. The native american tradition of planting together the Three Sisters – corn, squash and beans utilizes multiple plant factors. When I was looking up this concept I was amazed to find the image I have posted below. It seems that companion planting has been researched and “quantified” in a method known as “sensitive crystallization tests” that look at how plant extracts react with salt reagents such as copper chloride in a slow evaporation process. The result, often, is a complex geometrical arrangement such as the one found below. Apparently these geometric formations can then be evaluated and compared in order to determine a positive companion planting parter. Frankly, I don’t understand a word of the journal article on the topic that I found. However, I do think that it is a fanstastic and positive thing that folks in research institutions are devoting time and energy into this kind of stuff. And you thought that organic agriculture was just a bunch of manure! HA! Check out this attra link about companion planting if you are interested in learning ¬†more.

In Peace,

Brian, Kristin, Jon and Olivia


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