Learn the long-established art of sowing and growing plants together—better known as companion planting, and boost growth.
Conventional wisdom dictates growing one plant in one pot. While this may look symmetrical and neat, it is not really beneficial for the soil. Companion planting is probably the best way forward. But before knowing what companion planting is all about, it is vital to understand nature’s most productive ecosystem, the forest. Teeming with life, forests provide shelter and food to a mind-boggling diversity of living beings, including us humans. Each living organism lives in a symbiotic relationship with the other— plants, insects, animals, grass, microbes, subterranean fungi, amongst others. The death of one creates food for another, and hence, one plant can promote another one’s life.
IDEAS FROM FORESTS
Different families of plants need different nutrients from the soil; they don’t necessarily compete. In fact, they can help each other (and us) in pest control, pollination—by using space effectively—and promote high yield. Certain plants, however, do compete with each other to win favour in the process of evolution.
MANAGE SPACE AND TIME
The rule of thumb for growing companion plants is to never grow plants that belong to the same family together. Find out how much space and time each plant will need to grow.
Different plants occupy different space around them in a diverse way. Some rise vertically and then spread out laterally, some reach out for a little support, some grow deep into the ground, while others sprawl themselves across lazily over the ground. Try to pair plants so that they don’t intrude onto each other’s space, and don’t fight for sunlight and other requisites.
I came across an amazing traditional planting combination during a visit to Dehradun, last year. Six plants—ginger, turmeric, chilli, pigeon pea, colocasia, and corn—were planted together in the same space. These plants are not only from different families, and use space well, but the harvest of these various plants is staggered over a few months. This ensures a continuous supply of produce through the year. Ginger, turmeric and colocasia are slowgrowing underground tubers, while corn, pigeon pea and chilli grow relatively quickly, vertically. Each of these plants is from a different family: while chilli is a nightshade; corn is a type of grass; and pigeon pea is from the legume family.