Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Seed to Sky Garden Club: Companion Planting with Karen J. Myskiw

 Planting radishes, carrots, chervil and nasturtiums in your three sisters garden will boost production and help you grow healthy pesticide-free food for you and the bees.

The Seed to Sky Garden Club is a grassroots organization that grew naturally in a Church basement and parking lot in East Vancouver. We meet the first Tuesday of every month. Last night we had a very useful and inspiring talk given by Karen J. Myskiw. Another prairie transplant from the fertile fields of Manitoba, Karen is a plantswoman, educator and foodie. She has a degree in landscape architecture and works in human ecology (aka home economics). Early April is a great time to learn about companion planting because it affects the way you plan you vegetable and flower gardens, interplanting plants in a buddy system, avoiding negative synergy in the garden and emphasizing positive synergy. Companion planting guidelines are result of centuries of folk wisdom along with scientific study. The best thing to do is memorize which groups of plants grow well in communities. West Coast Seeds has a companion chart you can hang on your wall, which is great for classrooms, porches and potting sheds. Companion planting helps bees because it helps gardeners avoid using any kind of pesticides in the garden, even the ones approved for organic farming. Karen gave us some great ideas on how to plan our gardens for peak performance.

Many of the best ideas for companion planting also helps bees by providing more forage for them. Letting your companion plants flower and go to seed helps deter pests and attracts bees and other beneficial insect buddies. Anything that you do not want to spread by seeding, particularly fennel can easily be managed by cutting back the seed heads after they flower and before they mature. I've been doing this for years and it really works. Some herbs to let flower include parsley, cilantro, chervil, and radishes. Of course, you want keep lettuce greens, basil, and perilla from flowering as long as possible, but at the end of the season, it doesn't hurt to let them flower, with the advantage of using the edible flowers to garnish your salads. Other companion plants with flowers for bees are the Mediterannean herbs: lavender, rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. All these flowers are edible and can be sugared to decorate cakes and panna cotta. Don't forget to let your flowering alliums bloom for bees and let your brassicas bloom for bees and aphid-eating syrphid flies.

One of the surprises I too away from Karen's talk was how good radishes are for your garden. I had no idea! These little guys are fantastic sentinels for your three sisters garden. West Coast Seeds recommends planting three or four icicle radishes and leaving them to flower around each mound where you plant your squash to deter most squash and cucumber pests. Myskiw also directed us to a helpful web site called Golden Harvest Organics. This is where I discovered nasturtiums and chervils, which are companion plants in themselves, improve the flavor of radishes, so they are also buddies to plant in the three sisters garden. Radishes will act as decoy plants, attracting leaf miners so they leave your spinach alone. Golden Harvest Organics also reccomends you plant daikon and 'Snow Belle' radishes at 6-12 inch intervals among your broccoli to act as decoy plants for flea beetles. Letting the radishes go to seed helps your corn by deterring corn-borer beetles. One gardener in our club pointed out that you can alternate carrots and radishes in a row so that the radishes will mature faster than the carrots, loosen the soil for them and make a very efficient use of space in a crowded garden. Karen recommended planting one radish for every two carrots. I'm going to do that today!!!! Then at the end of the season, you can leave one or two carrots in the ground to overwinter and leave to flower next spring as an umbel the bees and other beneficials will love.

I also recommend planting the poached egg flower (Limnanthes douglasii) in the corners of your three sisters bed to boast the bee forage around your plants. Choosing scarlet runner beans will provide food for bumblebees and hummingbirds. Remember to purchase the pollen when buying sunflower seeds--avoid the Teddy Bear varieties. Corn requires a critical mass of plants as they are wind pollinated, so if you are passionate about growing corn you might want to share some seeds with your closest community plot neighbour.

I highly recommend taking one of Karen Myskiw's classes. Now every time I plant radishes I will think of her good advice!

No comments:

Post a Comment