Planning Your Garden Plot (Companion Planting, Rotation & Location)

Arrowleaf
If you've been following along here in prepping for this year's garden you have some seeds starting to pop up. If you were a little overeager you probably have some plants that are getting quite large and the roots are overgrowing their little cubicle.

If they are getting too big, and it's too early to plant them out (at least it is here in Spokane), you'll want to transplant them into a larger pot so they don't become root bound. Note that squash type plants (pumpkins, etc.) have sensitive roots so when/if you transplant them don't disrupt the roots. Most other starts you'll want to tussle up the roots a little before transplanting. (Note: If you come home on a sunny day and your starts are all droopy like a Salvador Dali painting, don't lose all hope. Often with generous watering they will resurrect themselves.)

If you haven't been able to get any seeds into the ground it's not too late to get them going but it's getting close to that point where you might want to just plan on buying plant starts from a local greenhouse. I recommend GEM Garden and Greenhouse, Northwest Seed & Pet and the Herb Garden & Greenhouse if you live in the Spokane area. Farmers' Markets are also a good place to get starts . Many of the large garden centers are coming around on sourcing from local greenhouses, but past history shows that many of their starts are from places like Texas.

If you haven't done so yet, it's time to draw up a picture of your garden plot and identify what you will plant and where. As I've said before, rotate crops to limit disease. For example tomato, potato, eggplantvarieties should not be planted in the same place from one year to the next. Rotation is also important for not depleting the soil. You want to follow heavy to medium feeders that draw a lot of nutrients from the soil (tomatoes, corn, cabbage, peppers) with either light feeders (carrots, beets, onions) or heavy givers (beans, peas) that actually will fix nitrogen in the soil and enrich it. I like the methodology explained here that recommends a rotation of heavy feeders followed with heavy givers which are then followed by light feeders.

Another key consideration in plotting out your garden plan is what plants make good companions and like to be together and which plants are arch enemies and will fight each other all summer resulting in reduced yields.

You can go here for a run down on plants that are beneficial and antagonistic. I get kind of overwhelmed by all the information and different criteria for planting, so I have developed Craig's anecdotal, simplified companion planting plan.

Basil & Tomatoes: My first recommendation is interplant your tomatoes with basil, lots of basil. We discovered this two year's ago. We always had trouble with our basil going to seed because of the intense heat of summer, but when we interplanted them with the tomatoes the large tomato plants shaded the basil just enough to keep them in check. We had wonderful basil all summer and the tomatoes seem to really like it too.

Borage, Nasturtiums and Marigolds all around: These are my go to plants to intersperse in the veggie garden. Marigolds are legendary among organic gardeners for helping with aphids.

Fennel be banned: I've heard reports that Fennel doesn't get along well with much in the garden so I haven't been planting it of late.

I'll probably add to my companion planting list as I mature as a gardener but these are the three things that make sense to me at this point. Let me know you're experiences and I'll add to the list.

One last consideration for you garden plan, make sure to plant you're tall shade producing plants on the north side of your plot so they don't block the sun from your shorter plants. Lettuce on the other hand is good to plant in the semi shade of sunflowers to keep it from going to seed too quickly.

Picture: Arrowleaf Balsamroot emerging from winter slumber.