Companion planting stands as a highly effective approach for optimising land utilisation, fostering mutually beneficial growth patterns between crops and flowers, and safeguarding cherished plants from insects.
Sixolise Mcinga, a senior analyst in sustainable agriculture at Green Cape, emphasises that the essence of companion planting revolves around carefully selecting crops that mutually support each other.
Companion planting, also known as allelopathy, happens when one organism produces helpful biochemicals for another. The key idea is to choose crops that benefit each other, as this significantly affects the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms.
“Companion planting is used in pest control, pollination, and also providing a general habitat that is quite conducive for the crops themselves, and also beneficial insects in place, and then just the maximisation of space use in terms of the crops themselves, and your planting systems, and as well as ultimately improving your crops,” she explains.
She also mentions that one way it helps is by being harmful to each other, as it significantly affects the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms in the system.
Similar to any crop, you need to determine the right time to tap into its production, especially in open land cultivation. Companion planting becomes time-bound or seasonal only if you choose it to be.
“The fact that you’re able to benefit from a natural soil fertility improvement system that you create by the intercropping systems that you have in place, and as well as just improving your yields. It is a great thing to have in place. So, it does definitely improve or is mostly used for pest control, but then it does have other benefits as well,” she explains.
Incompatible intercropping systems
- Cabbage: Cannot be mixed with fennel or any member of the onion family.
- Carrots: Cannot be mixed with broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, and potatoes.
- Cucumbers: Cannot be mixed with herbs or potatoes.
- Lettuce: Cannot be mixed with broccoli in your systems.
- Onions: Cannot be mixed with beans or peas same intercropping systems.
Compatible intercropping systems:
Maize and legumes have a very good relationship in that they’re able to replenish nutrients in the soil. They can create a circular system, which makes sure that there is pest control in place.
- Spinach: Mixes well with beans, cabbages, green peppers and onions.
- Tomatoes: Mix well with carrots, onions and parsley.
- Pumpkins: Mix well with beans garlic and potatoes.
- Potatoes: Mix well with beans, broccoli, and cabbage.
How common is companion planting?
Planting companions is widely done on a larger scale, and it’s exciting because it brings not only financial benefits but also diversifies production from a single crop to a combination of two.
“If you’re a commercial farmer and you want to tap into international markets such as the EU, this then requires a significant reduction in your chemical fertiliser use. With companion planting, these are just some of the benefits that you can have where you would significantly reduce your use of chemical fertilisers,” she explains.
By planting crops that benefit each other, you ensure they provide the necessary nutrients for the entire growth or life cycle of each crop.
“The commercial benefit of it is that you’re able to diversify your streams. Let’s say if there’s a bad season on onions or whichever crops that you have, you can be able to benefit from the other crop that you did as your intercrop,” she says.
The importance of pest control
There is also the natural pest control aspect, known as crop trapping. This occurs when you plant two crops together that can deter insects and, in turn, fend off other pests and diseases.
“Which would otherwise be that one that other crop would be a lot more prone to or susceptible to being attacked. But then if you have the other one in place, you’re able to naturally repel those pests from attacking your crop, which is great,” she says.
She adds that nematodes can harm your crops, but some other crops can benefit or enhance your crop, especially when it’s the season for that specific crop.
“If you intercrop it with another crop that’s able to attract the necessary or beneficial insects for pollination, then you’re able to have that. And I think based on understanding that every crop has its extractive nature,” she explains.
The idea is similar when you’re planting for nutrients. A particular crop absorbs what it needs and leaves out what it doesn’t require for its growth. In companion cropping, this process helps renew the soil’s nutrient balance, as the nutrients taken up by one crop are replenished by another crop that doesn’t use those specific nutrients.
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