A handy guide to companion planting

This is a post I wrote for Bothwell Community Garden’s blog a couple of years ago. The garden have since made the decision to create a new website and chose not to transfer across many of my pieces from the blog as they felt they weren’t relevant enough to the garden; but I get asked a lot about companion planting a lot, so thought it might be worth adding to my personal blog in case anyone needs a bit of help growing without chemicals and making the most of nature’s own partnerships.

 

Did you have resounding success in the past with certain crops without doing anything ‘special’? Did others fail, but you didn’t know why?

Companion planting could be the answer. Plants have always lived side by side; and sometimes they have benefited from this partnership. Sometimes it hasn’t worked out quite so well.
Companion planting involves growing a combination of plants that are of mutual benefit. Some have obvious benefits – growing carrots next to members of the allium family (onions, leeks, garlic etc) confuses and deters both the onion and the carrot root fly because the plants are so strongly scented. Herbs also have their uses – tarragon repels pests and is said to improve the flavour of most vegetables.

Here is a brief guide to companion planting – wherever possible, ‘bad matches’ should be planted as far away from each other as is feasible within your raised bed.

Beans
Love: Squash, sweetcorn, cucumbers, potatoes (dwarf beans only), celery, rosemary, sage, tarragon
Hate: Onions, leeks, garlic, chives

Broccoli / Calabrese
Love: Chamomile, peppermint*, dill, sage, rosemary, chives, tarragon
Hate: Strawberries, tomatoes, climbing beans

Cabbages / Kale
Love: Celery, onions, mint*, nasturtiums, dill, rosemary, oregano, chives, chamomile, sage, thyme
Hate: Strawberries, tomatoes, climbing beans

Carrots
Love: Lettuces, radishes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, leeks, chives, sage, tarragon
Hate: Dill

Cucumbers
Love: Sweetcorn, beans, garlic, nasturtiums, oregano, chamomile, tarragon
Hate: Sage

Fennel
Love: Tarragon
Hate: Coriander

Garlic
Love: Carrots, onions, tomatoes, tarragon
Hate: Beans

Onions, Leeks, Spring Onions
Love: Tomatoes, carrots, chamomile, tarragon
Hate: Beans

Peas
Love: Beans, carrots, celery, chicory, sweetcorn, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, radishes, spinach, turnips, parsley, rosemary, tarragon
Hate: Onions, chives, garlic, leeks

Peppers
Love: Basil, oregano, tarragon, peas

Potatoes
Love: Dwarf beans, brassicas, coriander, oregano
Hate: Rosemary, tomatoes

Pumpkins and Squash
Love: Sweetcorn, beans, cucumbers, oregano, tarragon
Hate: Sage

Radishes
Love: Peas, cucumbers, tarragon

Tomatoes
Love: Onions, basil, mint, parsley, petunias, French marigolds, chives, oregano
Hate: Potatoes, sweetcorn, kohlrabi, dill

*If you are growing mint, please grow it in a submerged pot in your bed, unless you fancy a raised bed full of rampant mint!

Sources:
Alys Fowler, The Edible Garden (BBC Books)
Dave and Andy Hamilton, The Self Sufficient-ish Bible (Hodder and Stoughton)
Brenda Little, Companion Planting (New Holland)

 

Sobriety, pootling and starting the fight for Fin.

MilneQuote

So, we are now eleven days into the hell that is the Cancer Research UK Dryathlon with only twenty one long, sober days to go.

But, is it really the ‘hell’ I thought it would be?

Well…no. In fact, I appear – at my ripe old age – to have turned something of a corner.

I feel brilliant. Seriously. I am sleeping so much better, I am waking refreshed (albeit with hazy memories of some truly bizarre and sometimes rather unsettling dreams) and ready to tackle a hour or so of home-schooling with the Child Made Entirely of Stroppiness And Playstation 2 Addiction (more about this below). The bags under my eyes large enough to bring home the weekly shop are vastly diminished, and I have lost weight. It’s probably water retention, I don’t care. I have discovered that my backside has ACTUALLY CHANGED SHAPE, my wobbly thighs are seeing an improvement in the cellulite (I’m really painting a glamorous picture of myself here, aren’t I?), and I actually did up a pair of size 10 hipster bell-bottom jeans without feeling as though I was about to pass out. It’s all good.

The biggest change, however, seems to be in my overall attitude to life and the little curve-balls it sometimes like to hurl at our heads. I am so much more chilled out about things that, a few weeks ago, would have irritated me to the point of me breaking out in hives, or sent me into paroxyms of indignant rage. Like having my wallet stolen last week, leaving the boys and I stranded in Hamilton until a wonderful friend heard my Facebook plea and came to our rescue; like the latest nonsense from Fin’s nursery; like the fact that I am still receiving eight or nine calls a day asking me about claiming back the PPI I have never, ever, taken out.

I like this new me. She’s rather nice. She’s calm, and collected, and laid-back. She’s stopped getting into pointless arguments on forums. She rather likes peace, and tranquility and reading. (I have just finished Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’, which was staggeringly good. I am now wading through Umberto Eco’s ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’ which isn’t quite such an easy read, but oddly compelling, despite me not understanding half of it because it involves psychics and stuff). She likes walking, and being outdoors, and gets far more done in a day than she used to.

OK. I’ll shut up now. But remember you can donate to my Dryathlon sponsorship here.….or else I might keep wittering on about how bloody marvellous I am feeling each day for the next twenty one days.

polytunnel

My new-found energy resulting from the drop in bodily toxins plus some unseasonably mild weather has led to me ditching my old-lady afternoon nap in favour of a bit of old-fashioned pootling at the Community Garden. You know how much I like a good pootle. I thrive on it.

It’s still a little early to be sowing seeds with gay abandon unless you have access to heated cold-frames, particularly as reports suggest that we may be plunged into temperatures of minus 15 celsius by the weekend; and I am saving my seed catalogues for a particularly decadent evening; but there is always work to be done at the garden. Both the outdoor and indoor beds have been thoroughly cleared, weeded and given a dressing of Fish, Blood and Bone. I have left my miniscule sprouts and red cabbage in situ in the outdoor bed for now, by my reckoning they should be ready by 2016. Sadly, all my crop of leeks bolted, and were completely unsalvageable, so have been turned into compost.

I am now on a mission to tidy and clean Polytunnel 1. This is the one we use for sowing and growing on plants for the garden members to buy to plant in their beds, and also for the flowers we use to create hanging baskets and other displays for the village. It’s a busy little place during the season, and one of my favourite places in the World. Having been pretty much dormant for the past three months, it is in dire need of a good clear out; seed and plant trays need washing so we can recycle them for this coming season; and at some point we will need to blast the outside with a water-jet to remove some of the moss and detritus from the overhanging trees that affect the light levels within the polytunnel. I am making good head-way, and very much enjoying just pottering around at the garden. You know, whilst I can. Before we are under five foot of snow.

A group of us gardening, pootling types have set up a Facebook group called Gardening Shenanigans . If you are on Facebook, and fancy a blether about sowing, growing, potting, pootling and generally moaning about the weather, you are very welcome to join us. Just request to join (it’s a ‘Closed Group’ to avoid spammers and general ne’er do wells) and one of the gatekeepers will let you in.

work2

As the children returned to school and nursery, it was time to get Fin back into the routine of working at home. Remember, this is the unruly, unco-operative child who ‘cannot do anything properly’, according to one (and I stress one) of his nursery teachers.

We have started slowly. I am aiming for just half an hour of activities at the kitchen table, anything that engages him for longer is a lovely bonus. The aim is to bring him up to speed with where he ought to be for his age, difficult though it is to find a definitive benchmark for what your average just-gone-four-year-old should be able to achieve without difficulty.

We have surpassed our thirty minute target every day. We have been mostly concentrating on drawing and making patterns, to aid Fin with his pencil control in preparation for starting to write. Just over the course of a week, I have seen improvements in his drawing, with his pictures now actually looking like more than a frustrated scribble. He is writing his own name confidently. I discovered, to my chagrin, that he knows how to type his name, and his brother’s name, and post it to Facebook. He has completed his maths workbook which is aimed at children up to the age of five. He seems happier about going into nursery – his speech at home, and with certain nursery friends, I feel, has also improved dramatically and he is now quite confidently speaking three or four sentences at a time – for the first time, we are hearing about what happened at nursery, about games he has been playing. His stories show a keen sense of humour, a beautiful sense of childish mischief that I do not wish to see stifled.

I await my next meeting with his teacher (the one that feels he cannot do anything properly) with a certain degree of trepidation. She is not happy that I am working with him at home, as she feels that ‘undermines’ what they are doing with him at nursery. It would appear that, to her, learning to write is more important than, first, learning to sit still and concentrate. He is clearly not working to her timescale, and therefore he is a write-off, despite being extremely good at arithmetic, noticing patterns, and anything computer based. (Yes, I hear the screams of ‘autism’ from here – I hear them. She doesn’t. She thinks he is just a ‘bad child’. For the record, I believe he has a degree of Attention Deficit Disorder). It has obviously not dawned on her that he may need to learn to sit quietly and hold his pencil before he can manage the beginnings of cursive writing. I have suggested that she is expecting him to run before he can walk. She fixed me with that supercillious ‘I have a teaching qualification and you don’t’ smile. It would appear that being a child’s parent counts for very little these days. How DARE I profess to know my own child better than she does?

I always want him to know that he is, indeed, smarter than he thinks. I honestly believe he may be smarter than anyone thinks. When it comes to his future, I intend to be braver, and stronger, than I think.

I will be silenced no more.

There will be a more detailed post about Fin next week, I hope, once the Health Visitor has come around for his ‘review’. Next week is a busy week for me, involving the forementioned visit from the HV; my eye-test; my sale of a kidney to pay for the glasses I dare say I need;  my haemotology appointment where I discover whether my bone-marrow is still confounding medical science; and an interview with a lovely St Andrews Undergraduate who is studying the role of community gardens in today’s society.

Honestly, I feel like a grown-up.

Yes, we have no bananas….(or sweets, crisps, frozen pizza or sanity)

 

When I was young, back in the Dark Ages, I used to spend weekends with my grandparents. Saturday afternoon was spent with my maternal grandparents, Nanny and Grampa. Sundays were spent with Nanna and Grandad, my paternal grandparents.

It was a time of playing in Nanny and Grampa’s garden or helping to harvest the vegetables or soft fruits; or walks on the beach with Nanna if the weather was fine. This, however, was Wales. The weather was frequently shocking, and we would need to stay indoors.

Weekend afternoon TV in the 70s and 80s seemed to be wall-to-wall black and white films. Thanks to West Wales’ unfortunate climate, I am pretty sure I have watched just about every Cary Grant, Fred and Ginger, and Second World War film ever made.

Terrible weather and film matinees also made for some rather marvellous stories of my grandparents’ past. How Grampa met Nanny when he lent her money for some Corn Silk Powder when they worked at the same factory. How Nanna was stuck, unceremoniously, into a rubbish bin by Len Bateman on a double-date (the other couple being her best friend and Grandad). And, of course, the war stories. Grampa was in the Navy, and saved the whole ship from sinking by plugging a torpedo hole with his bare hands. Grandad was in the Army, and taught Field Marshall Montgomery everything he knew, whilst seeing off the enemy single-handedly, armed with nothing but a tooth-pick and a tin of sardines.

As much as I loved my grandfathers’ hugely embroidered tales of bravery and derring-do (I swear they used to try and out-do each other with the most elaborate embellishments just to see our eyes widen in astonishment); I loved the stories from the Home Front just as much. So many stories of real life, of how my grandmothers managed with their young husbands fighting overseas. Stories of rationing, of air-raids, of streets being bombed, of friends being killed.

 

Fast forward seventy years and here we are, sitting in a warm house. The boys are playing Playstation, I am about to pop the dinner in the electric oven. Tonight we shall all have bath using the seemingly endless supply of hot water we have at the touch of a button. We have a choice about what to have for dinner tonight, and a cupboard full of food. We can pop to the shop later for chocolate, and wine; and if the boys dirty their uniforms, I can simply pop them in the washing machine, no bother at all. If clothes get damaged, no problem – we’ll just drive off to one of the multitude of well-appointed shops and buy new.

Our society, even in a time of ‘double-dip recession’ take so much for granted. Every time we throw away that bag of salad that is two days out of date (the one we didn’t use because we popped by the chippy instead), every time we jump in the shower ‘to pick ourselves up’, every time we pop a load of washing in the tumble-drier, or buy a new outfit to cheer ourselves up.

Imagine what it would be like to have very little choice in what you could eat. Shops with bare shelves; coupons for new clothes; strict rationing on household fuel to heat the home, cook food and heat water. How would your child react to only being able to have 12oz of sweets a month, not a day?

How would we manage on war rationing?

That’s what we intend to find out……..my children are going to love me, aren’t they?

 

 

 

 

Bringing in the harvest, and the mystery of the missing carrots.

It’s more productive than it looks…

 

2012 will be known, by many, as The Year Of The Slug. It would appear that our slimy, all-destroying foe have made some kind of pact with the devil, and have spawned offspring with superpowers capable of reducing an established pea plant to 1mm of stalk in twenty minutes flat.

Add to the demon slugs a big dollop of extremely odd weather, vastly flucuating temperatures, a very late frost and the damned rats of the sky (pigeons, what else?), and you will understand why I have spent much of this growing season with my head in my hands.

During an extremely rare hour today when we didn’t have bright sunshine followed by a sudden deluge; the boys and I ventured up to the garden to check out the bed and the polytunnel. On Saturday, Richard had worked magic with our tatty bit of netting to ensure it was taut enough that the pigeons didn’t consider it a handy perch to sit on whilst they demolished my sprouts, and I had filled up the beer traps with the dregs of our barrel of homebrewed Welsh Trollop Pilsner and despatched a fair few slugs with all the glee of a horticultural Idi Amin. Let battle commence!

Things are NOT looking too shabby, all things considered.

At home, in the shaded front garden, we are growing kale and purple sprouting broccoli. These are actually doing really well, and don’t seem to be having any issues with the weather, or with cabbage white butterflies. Our potatoes in sacks have also done pretty well considering I have been guilty of ignoring them and not earthing them up when I should have.

It’s not all bad….

 

In the raised bed we have:

Peas – a second sowing, because the slugs demolished the first ten plants overnight. These haven’t been a great success, the plants stayed small and we’ve only had a few pods ready at any one time – these are eagerly devoured raw by the boys.

Broad beans – These have been phenomenal, really. We are all currently sick to death of broad beans. I mistakenly bought a tall growing, rather than dwarf variety which isn’t ideal for the bed; but pinching the tops out have stopped them getting too out of hand.

Courgette ‘Zucchini’ – It’s doing alright, slower than the two I have in tubs at home (different varieties, but Hellboy has hidden the labels so I can’t remember what they are); but the slugs are even attacking the leaves of that, despite its prickly underside. Usually, we have a glut of courgettes from two plants – this year we have a total of three, and have just enough to handle.

Red cabbage and sprouts – These were planted a couple of weeks ago, to fill in the gap left by the incredible disappearing carrots. Both are doing well, though there have been a few pigeon attacks to the sprouts (they don’t seem interested in the red cabbage) hence our trickery with the netting.

Lettuce – Red lettuce, Bulls Blood (which are really beet leaves), and Little Gem. These are doing remarkably well considering the almost constant attack by the marauding slug hordes; but that is where I have put the beer trap. The Bulls Blood is doing less well – possibly because it was sown from seed in situ, rather than grown in the polytunnel and then transplanted as the other two varieties were.

Leeks – Are looking pretty healthy, and are growing much better than last year when they were very stunted, and then bolted almost immediately when we had an uncharacteristically hot spell.

As for the carrots….I sowed two varieties – Amsterdam Forcing ‘Sprint’; and Autumn King. Weeks went by….nothing. Then, I saw a few seedlings poking their heads out of the soil, and there was much rejoicing.

Then the seedlings disappeared.

We concluded that a combination of slugs, and cold, damp weather had destroyed the lot – what hadn’t germinated and been eaten had probably rotted away. So…imagine my surprise on Saturday when I noticed a lot of carrot seedlings popping up. Around my sprouts. These are the Amsterdam Forcing, the so-called ‘early crop’ that we should have been eating by now. Given that we are almost half way through August, I don’t really see them coming to much but we shall see. I shall call it an experiment.

One year, I will get it right. I swear.