There is no shortage of companion planting charts online to help you matchmake your plants so here we talk about what to look for in harmonious growing bed partners and the Three Sisters: Maize, Squash, Bean.
Makings of a strong relationship:
- Pest control: One plant repels the pests who prey on the other plant. e.g. Marigolds (which are edible flowers) repel cabbage worm.
- Nutrients: The plants consume and produce complimentary nutrients for their neighbouring plants. e.g. Beans fix nitrogen which is great for carrots and other root veg.
- Space efficient: Faster maturing plants like radishes or spring onions can be planted amongst slower developing root veg. Corn can provide vertical growing space for beans and peas.
- Flavour improving: Basil & Tomato, Broccoli & Onion.
- Aesthetics: Sometimes the last thing thought about in edible garden, but with mind blowing varieties of vegetables to add structure and colour to your garden be creative with your selection.
The Three Sisters: Maize, Squash, Bean
Growing Maize (Sweetcorn), Squash (Courgette, Marrow, Pumpkin) and Bean (Pea, Beans) together is one of the oldest and most talked about poly-culture methods of planting.
The basic principle behind planting these three plants together is quite simple, the Maize supplies support for the beans, the squash helps to suppress weeds by providing a ground cover (a bit like a living mulch) and the beans fix nitrogen into the soil. Once the corn matures the squashes should be close to reaching maturity and the corn can be harvested allowing the squash to take over the plot. This method of planting is an excellent way to grow a number of different crops in a small space. It does work best in tropical countries but the method can be put into place in the UK or any other temperate climate with the help of some canes to support the beans and peas.
The overall yield for all three would be greater than a mono-crop in a similar sized area. It is therefore ideal for the urban gardener with a very limited amount of growing space. The three plants together can also look quite attractive and could act as a decorative border within a garden as well as a good source of food.