Companion planting & a Fishy update..

Posted April 21st, 2014 by Rob Bob : )»

Companion planting & Polyculture..
Companion planting
is a method of growing food that involves planting a variety of plants that have a beneficial relationship with the others planted close by.. Some plants are said to keep certain pests away due to their perfume while others will attract predator insects, like ladybugs, into the garden so they can feast on pests like aphids..
Other plants can be used as sacrificial plants that deliberately attract pests to a spot in the patch where they can be dealt with easily.. In the aquaponic system we found that chives made a great black aphid attracting plant & were able to deal with them in one spot :)
Many flowering herbs & ornamental plants also play an important role in bringing pollinators like bees & butterflies into the veggie patch.. Legumes like peas & beans help increase available nutrients for other plants to use & also make a great green manure crop to dig through the beds & increase the nutrient levels..

A great example of this growing system is called the "Three sisters method" & is still being used by backyard gardeners around the world.. This well proven companion planting system was used by native peoples across North America for thousands of years.. In this system the 3 plants that were normally used were maize/corn, climbing beans & squash/pumpkins.. The corn was grown to provide a growing frame for the beans which in turn fixed nitrogen to the soil & the squash was used as a living mulch that helped to control weeds & received shade from the taller corn..

I've been told by a friend (thanks Adie) that some like to plant a forth sister (borage) here in Australia to help bring in bees/insects to help with pollination.. After looking into it further I found that the "Rocky Mountain bee plant" (Cleome serrulata) was used in some places in the Americas for this purpose & doubled as a food source..

Here is a few links that explain the origins of the 3 sisters method & planting schedule in a bit more detail,

Some of the claims made about companion planting are not always backed up by scientific data & unfortunately just don't work that well we've found :/ We have tried on a few occasions to reduce root knot nematode numbers by planting out French marigolds (a common "go to" plant for pest control) in beds around the garden.. Unfortunately, as a living plant they just don't do much at controlling the nematodes but we have had great success using them, along with mustard greens, as a green manurer crop that is mulched up & dug through the soil to decompose & gas the nematodes into submission, as I've mentioned in other blogs..

There are a load of companion planting guides in books & on the web that I have found useful.. Here are a few that I have found useful for us here in Australia,
I would also recommend a great Aussie/Kiwi book by Jackie French called "Jackie French's Guide to Companion Plating in Australia & New Zealand" if you can find a copy..

Polyculture is an expansion of the companion planting idea where many different types of plants are sown out together.. It can also include animals into the system, something I won't be doing, much to the displeasure of our chooks ;) While not all the plants are "companions" in the sense as I mentioned above, all the plants have a function.. Some are planted due to their ability to be an early, late or continual cropping plant to spread out the production period of the bed.. Others are planted for their pest repelling properties & some make themselves useful as a thick layer of leaves close to the ground to help shade the soil & stop it from drying out..

This season I decided to combine a fair few different plants into a Polyculture bed to see how it goes.. The companion plants we will be using are Alums (garlic & shallots) to deter the aphids & some leafy greens to help provide a layer of living mulch to help keep the soil from drying out..

The short term crops we have planted out are radishes, rocket (arugula), leaf lettuce & beetroot leaves with the bulbs of the beetroot taking a bit longer to mature.. The broccoli, garlic, shallot bulbs & walking onions are the longer term crops in the bed that will take quite some time to mature.. Perpetual spinach, rainbow chard & shallot greens will offer a continual crop of leaves with the side shoots from the broccoli providing us with a continual harvest up December this year if not longer..

When it came time to plant out the bed I placed one row of shallots down either side of the bed & had a row of Glen large garlic up the centre.. Up one side between the garlic & shallots went a row of broccoli & up the other went a mix of beetroot & chard seeds.. Once those plants & seeds were in, lettuce, rocket & radish seeds were broadcast throughout the bed..
So far the bed is looking very promising with some leafy greens & shallot already harvested for small lunchtime salads.. Am also very happy to see that we have a few volunteer purslane pop up which will also be used in salads :) Shall keep you updated with the progress of this bed as it will be providing us with quite a few meals this season if the current results are anything to go by ;)

I have finally finished the aquaculture/Fish Farm system for the back yard, well sort of.. We did have 2 fish in the system that we were given but lost one on the weekend while trying to adjust the pH for new fingerings.. Was a silly mistake.. I'm now getting the pH levels under control.. Hope to add the lonely fish back in tomorrow along with a perch from our aquaponic system so they can start to condition the water before the fingerlings arrive.. Here is a bit of a look at the fish farm for those that are interested..

While we won't be growing veggies with it this season it will be turned into an aquaponic system after the first harvest of fish has been done.. Just need the OK from Bianca to expand the aquaponic area ;)

We were lucky enough to be offered to buy an aquaponic system from a local aquaculture designer, Mr Paul Van, who is moving to the United Arab Emirates where he is building a massive 4400m² pilot aquaponic system..
I must say I am more than stoked to have bought this system & my mind is full of ideas on how it can be set up as this system is about 3 times as large as the current aquaponic system we have.. Think I might actually be able to split it up into a few different systems to help increase our aquaponic veggie production with a crayfish or 2 tossed in as well ;)

Hoping to have the system set up in the next month or so after we dismantle the current one & move it to my parents for them to make use of.. Definitely won't be able to say I will be bored over the coming few months ;)

A while back I planted a sweet potato slip in the aquaponic system to see how it would go.. Was very impressed with the greenery the plant provided for salads & stir fries but was sceptical as to if we would get many tubers from it.. Here's a quick look at some of the small tubers we pulled from the bed along with the bonus tubers I found growing on the vine in the soil beside the system..

Cooked up one of each of the taters we picked & found that the ones grown in soil had a better flavour & were slightly sweeter.. I think next time we will grow the plant in the aquaponics but trail the vine into half barrels filled with soil to see if we can boost the flavour & amount of tubers we get..

Harvests from the patch..
Harvested the one & only fruit from the Dragon fruit cactus this year, that was growing over the fence from the neighbours..
Wasn't the largest fruit but had a lot more flavour & sweetness than any previous fruit we had harvested from the cactus.. Over the past few days the plant has been cut right back as the neighbours are putting in a new fence which is a bit sad.. I suppose that should motivate me to plant out some of the yellow dragon fruit plants we have in pots ;)

Harvested our one & only Piel de sapo melon (AKA "Toad skin" or "Christmas melon" ) from out the garden out the front this week..
I think that we will need to get them in earlier next year & in better prepared beds.. At least we have a few home grown seeds to plant out for next year's crop ;)

Pulled the KY1 tomato from the bed that we planted out using the polyculture method.. While they weren't the largest tomatoes they were very sweet & tasted great in a sauce & on a sandwich :) For a determinate tomato variety they certainly do have a lot of flushes, I think we got about 4 from this one plant :)

Also harvested all the Balinese sweet corn..
Wasn't the sweetest corn we have eaten but did have a very "corny" flavour which Bianca & I both liked with a dollop of butter melted over the top :) The girls found it a bit too bland so next season I think I will grow F1 hybrid sweet corn.. I would like to grow a heritage sweet corn variety but am having problems finding them here.. If anyone could suggest a heritage variety or supplier I would be very grateful :)

That's it for this month's look at the garden.. Hope everyone's cool weather crops are in & well on their way.. Still have a few more to pop in here & will give you a look next month :)
Have a great one all,
Rob :)»

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