Good to Grow: Get a more robust harvest with companion plants

Laverne and Shirley, Lucy and Ethel, Cagney and Lacey — you get the drift, some things just go together. A visit from my sister’s longtime friend and all the fun that followed has got me thinking about unbeatable combinations.

It’s true for people and it’s true for plants. A dynamic duo is hard to beat.

Corn and beans, now there is a partnership. Following my mom/uncle/grandfather as they dug the hills and I dropped in the corn and bean seeds is one of my earliest garden memories. Little did I know that not only was the corn providing a trellis for the beans to climb, the beans were adding support to the corn stalks against wind and heavy rain. Beans also add nitrogen to the soil, which is needed for the corn to grow.

I loved picking beans, and I still do. Putting on long sleeves to protect my arms from the vines then overflowing my bucket with fresh beans is such fun. I even enjoy stringing and eating them afterward.

Carrots and tomatoes grow well together. Carrots, as they tunnel underground aerate the soil and make it easier for the tomato roots to grow deep. As the tomato vines grow, they will also provide shade for the cool-loving carrots.

Not only do tomato and basil taste great together, they like being planted as neighbors. The fragrance of basil will deter disease and pests from the tomato vines, helping the plant produce healthier, better tasting tomatoes. I wouldn’t plant them interspersed, but rather in rows beside each other so that the basil gets plenty of sunshine.

Are you planting sweet peppers? Try adding chives nearby to aid with pollination. Again, basil is a good complement to peppers, both plants loving the sun and serving to repel insects from each other.

If you are growing cabbage, try planting it with dill, rosemary or onions. The strong scents will keep pests away. But this is one plant you don’t want near tomatoes or beans.

Lettuce and radishes make fun plant partners in the spring. As the radishes mature and you harvest them by pulling them from the ground, the lettuce leaves will grow even bigger. I’m not that crazy about store-bought radishes, but straight from the garden, eaten raw dipped in a rich, creamy butter and coarse, high-quality salt — yum.

Need another reason to add radishes when planting greens? They will grow quickly, helping you mark your rows as the slower growing beets, spinach and parsnips take their time popping through the ground.

Don’t be afraid to add a few flowers into your vegetable beds. The mix of the scents and colors will confuse insects and create healthier plants. Try planting nasturtiums with your cucumber and melon vines. They will help control aphids and beetles. Plus, they are pretty, can be edible, and serve as a pollinator.

I grow my vegetables in raised beds and always plant marigolds in the front and often down the sides. I think they can be a miracle plant to help with insects in vegetable beds. I was not always a fan of marigolds, but their yellow, orange, reddish blooms have grown on me over the years. I think it has something to do with my respect for how hard they work to keep my beds insect-free while adding a bit of decorative trim.

Here I have just touched on only a few of the many reasons why certain plants flourish near others. Soil nutrients, specific insect types and growing patterns are all factors much too detailed to cover in a few words. Good resources are the Farmers’ Almanac or books on companion planting, such as “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte.

Abbott and Costello, Batman and Robin, McCartney and Lennon; yes, some things just go together. As you begin to plan your garden spaces, think about the combinations and how plants can help each other be stronger and provide you with a more robust harvest.