One of nature’s great lessons is that there is strength in diversity, and your garden is a great place to see this in action. Gardening techniques like companion planting, interplanting, and guilds, all of which involve planting more than one type of plant in a given space, show us that diversifying what you grow can lead to stronger plants and a healthier garden ecosystem.
Companion planting is the idea that certain plants perform better when grown together. Common examples include planting beans with your corn because beans fix nitrogen in the soil for the corn to use, or planting calendula near your cucumbers so cucumber beetles will go for your flowers instead of your crops. A lot of the evidence for particular plant pairings is strictly anecdotal (does planting basil nearby really make your tomatoes taste better?), but planting flowers and flowering herbs throughout your garden will certainly draw beneficial insects to pollinate your crops and eat insect pests.
Interplanting is similar to companion planting, but the goal here is to maximize use of your garden space by planting fast growing crops between slower growing crops to get a double harvest. For example, growing lettuce between your pepper plants will give you a lettuce harvest well before your peppers begin producing. Another example is placing vegetables that need a little protection from the sun, such as bush beans, in the shade of taller plants, like corn. An added benefit of interplanting is that it limits the space where weeds can grow. Less work for you!
Finally, a guild is an intentional grouping of plants that work to each other’s benefit, often with a tree or shrub as the centerpiece. They look cool and work really well in backyards. Here is a great article on Guilds for the Small Scale Home Garden.
Here I’m using a common weed, purslane, as a companion plant for my tomatoes. Purslane grows in a mat that will act as a living mulch to prevent erosion and other, more annoying weeds from popping up. Purslane is also very tasty and nutritious!
Peppers interplanted in the lettuce at my home garden. In a few weeks the lettuce will be ready to harvest, just as the peppers strat picking up steam. It’s a two-fer!
An example of a fruit tree guild at my house. This nectarine is underplanted with daffodils and chives to attract pollinators and repel pests, and clover to fix nitrogen in the soil.
This is a picture of our lead hen, Jessica, just because she’s cute!