Is planting mates a good way to grow multiple organic vegetables? Or is it the nest of myth and hearsay of a mare? Everyone’s organic gardens are so different that one of these things can be. But a proven and sophisticated example of companion planting is the Ayurvedic garden, popular in Nepal, India and adjacent lands. It offers a proven way to organically grow a lazy garden without chemical pesticides.
Developed from ancient medical traditions, it combines a large variety of plants in one plot, each plant precisely paired to support the other and to confuse or repel insects. Since aphids prefer lush green foliage, vulnerable crops such as beans are transplanted with purple, red or blue crops such as red cabbage, red cabbage, purple broccoli, rhubarb orchard.
Likewise, caterpillars love plants with soft leaves but do not like hard foliage. Then grow tomatoes, cabbage, beans and cucurbits among the detergent caterpillars of brassica, and brassica confuses the Beatles and other insects looking for harder crops.
Tall sun-loving plants such as tomatoes, sweet corn, aubergines and peppers are intertwined with lovable lettuces to maximize the use of space while every odd hole is filled with leeks, carrots and other root vegetables that take advantage of the deepest levels of the soil. Aromatic herbs, onions and chives are grouped around the bed as an additional parasitic barrier.
While any combination could provide little protection or increase yield (or so research suggests), an extensive diversity like this – planted together in zigzag rows or at random intervals – has a cumulative impact, they say. Formal crop rotation is not necessary because each plant is immediately replaced by another from a different family when pulled. And in the long Asian growing season, the main food crops can often be grown in succession in the same space all year round.
Presentation of an even simpler style of Ayurvedic gardening
I love the Ayurvedic system as a model of natural gardening … but I hate the purgatory of weeding it by hand. So could this controlled jungle be job free? A clue is found in another Asian country, Japan, home to Masanobu Fukuoka’s legendary no-dig system. This Buddhist visionary has shown that rye and barley seeds, wrapped in clay pellets, can be sown among rice while it is still growing.
Contrary to belief, much rice – apart from “wild” rice aside – is not grown in water. When the rice is harvested, its stalks are scattered among the seedling beans like mulch. As the beans mature, the rice is sewn by hand between them. When the grain is harvested, its stalks are cut and spread like mulch. As the rice matures, the rye and barley are sown again.
And so it goes, in a perpetual cycle – one crop that matures as another begins. The roots are left to rot in the soil, the mulch of each crop retains moisture, therefore irrigation is usually not necessary and soil fertility is renewed.
It is deceptively simple. But Fukuoka took 30 years to perfect it and his first experiments wiped out his farm twice. Suppose we combine both of these Asian methods and add a touch of western swagger? Is the ideal scheme for a low-maintenance organic garden produced?
In February, under the cloches, we planted the beans in the midst of radishes, pak choy, aragula (rocket), spinach, early lettuce, peas and carrots. For mulch, we would use several sheets of newspaper kept with the compost and make holes or cracks for the seeds or transplants.
By the end of May, the peas will have grown the beans and both can be harvested. All the immature pods can be eaten whole as a Mangia Tutto and the still-growing tips used fresh in salads. As in the Fukuoka method, we leave the roots in the ground and lay the cut bean and pea stem in addition to any unwanted spinach foliage as mulch. Sweet corn transplants are then inserted.
Among these, we fall the green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris, the “common” bean), maincrop carrots and other roots, as well as more lettuce. We play the plot with calendula, tagetes, nasturtium, basil, caraway and other spicy annual herb transplants. At the end of the rows go zucchini, squashes and other pumpkins that jump into space.
Everything is collected in September. We leave the roots in the ground, cut the stems and leaves and lay them down as mulch. Our winter brassica travelling. Or we could sow Chinese leaves, earth cress and arugula (rocket), very densely, as edible green fertilizers. This is cut in February and relaxed like mulch, after which the cycle starts again.
No more, we have to drag those stems and leaves into a compost bin, laboriously turn it over and then bring the miserable stuff back where it came from. Nature does not! And left where it falls, the mulch should suppress most of the annual weeds. (All parts of a sick or suspicious plant should be taken and burned, of course.)
This simplified version of ayurvedic gardening not only suppresses weeds and is ecologically efficient. Also save time and effort!