Companion Planting by Byron Chitwood
The indigenous American’s sometimes referred to as Indians developed companion planting. It is not for sure where or when they came up with companion planting but must have observed over many years that it was a good idea since the yields of certain crops went up as a result. Their conclusions were not written down unless some of the hieroglyphics of the Mayan and Inca’s recorded it.
Their main companion planting consisted of the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. The corn provided some shade for beans and squash and the corn stalks were arbors for bean and squash vines to climb on. In return for the accommodations, the beans furnished nitrogen to the other plants through nitrogen fixation in the soil at the roots of the beans. All the plants prospered as a result of companion planting. The firs people occupied the Americas and outlying islands for twelve thousand or more years and have cultivated crops for at least 9,000 of those years. This figure has been established from various archaeological sites by carbon dating corn cobs and remains of other crops.
The American Indians domesticated and developed quite a few vegetables and tubers. Some of the most important to the world’s food supply are potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and corn. No doubt, much progress has been made in development of these important food items, especially tomatoes and corn. The ancients developed multiple varieties of these crops by saving the best seeds from a newly harvested crop to be planted in the following year. There are several thousand varieties of potatoes in Peru alone.
Now, we’ll go back to companion planting. I haven’t found any vegetable crop that won’t do better if a few green beans are planted as a companion. Not only do green bean plants add nitrogen to the soil, you usually can count on a crop of beans from the ones that were planted just as a companion plant. After the beans plants have produced all they can, about three pickings, pull the barren green bean plants and use them as mulch around the host plant. This is especially a good practice for plants such as tomatoes and peppers that bear fruit later than green beans. After the host plants have ceased producing, both the host and green bean plants can be tilled under to add organic material to the soil. If this is repeated year in and year out, the garden soil will become much more porous and permeable to water distribution throughout the soil, especially our blackland gumbo.
Another good companion combination is the practice of planting southern field peas within okra. There will probably not be a tremendous yield of field peas but the field peas are a legume and add nitrogen to the soil to help feed the okra plants.
Planting legumes in with other vegetables will cut down on the amount of commercial or organic fertilizer that needs to be purchased. Also, there is the benefit of eventual mulching and adding additional humus to the soil.
An excellent reference book to read is: “CARROTS LOVE TOMATOES” by Louise Riotte. It is easy reading and also very informative on vegetable gardening in general.