Organic Gardening
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Companion Planting Made Easy

little plants

Photo by Getty Images/PeopleImages

The Garden Planner team spent months researching the best companion planting combinations for your garden. The result: A fantastic new companion planting feature that makes companion planting a cinch.

Companion Planting in the Garden Planner

To use the Garden Planner’s companion planting feature, select a crop on your plan then click on the heart-shaped Companion Planting button. The selection bar will then show only suitable companion plants. Select one and drop it into place.

To add a companion plant between two crops, hold down the Shift key on your keyboard and click on each crop. Click the Companion Planting button and the selection bar will show all possible companions for either of the selected crops. To remove the filter, just click on the heart again.

Let’s look at a few examples of companion plant pairings that are backed up by science.

Companion Planting to Control Pests

Many insects that eat pests also love flowers — for instance, poached egg plants draw in aphid-eating hoverflies so are great for growing near to lettuce, which is prone to aphid attacks. Growing borage next to tomatoes helps to attract bees and tiny pest-eating wasps, and growing crimson clover alongside broccoli encourages spiders, which control pests.

Planting nasturtiums close to fava beans will lure blackfly away from the beans. Nasturtiums are also preferred by hungry caterpillars instead of other cabbage family plants.

Strong-smelling garlic deters the green peach aphid, so the Garden Planner includes it for growing near fruits such as peaches and nectarines.

Companion Planting for Physical Benefits

Some companion plants are useful because they offer some sort of physical advantage. For instance some, such as sunflowers, can offer support for climbing plants such as cucumbers and pole beans, as well as shade for those crops that can become sun-stressed in hotter climates.

The ‘Three Sisters’ method of growing beans, corn, and squash together is a well-known companion planting combination. The broad leaves of squash suppress weeds, and the beans scramble up the corn while fixing nitrogen at their roots to boost the growth of the other sisters.

Potato tubers have also been shown to grow larger when planted with beans.

Borage adds trace minerals to the soil, which then enhances the flavor and vigor of strawberries.

Companion planting can help improve your growing, but don’t forget that crop rotation, correct spacing, and good soil management are the most important influences on your growing. Companion planting is the icing on the cake!

Learn more about companion planting in this video.

Get More Tips With These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

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Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Garden Boundaries that Look Great and Taste Amazing!

grapes

Photo by Getty Images/WALTER ZERLA

Fruit Trees

Fruit trees such as apples, peaches, and pears can be trained flat against walls or fences as fans, espaliers, or single-stemmed cordons. Fruit trees can also be grown along freestanding post-and-wire supports to create divisions within your garden.

Vines

Vining fruits such as grapevines and kiwis can be grown on sturdy supports to quickly cover a boundary wall.

Berries

Blackberries, redcurrants, whitecurrants, and gooseberries can all be trained against a wall.

Hedges

Rowan (mountain ash), rambling rose, elder, hazel, and crab apple all make excellent hedging plants. Thorny shrubs such as blackthorn and hawthorn make great stock-proof (and people-proof) edible hedges.

Learn more about edible garden boundaries in this video.

More Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

How to Make a Compost Bin from Pallets

compost

Photo by Getty Images/tera24

A compost bin made from wooden pallets is cheap and easy to make. Check that they’re safe for composting in — the pallet stamps should display the IPPC or EPAL logo, and also the letters HT, which stands for heat-treated. Don’t use pallets with the letters MB on them as this indicates that the pallet has been treated with methyl bromide, a toxic pesticide.

You’ll need four pallets of matching size (or you can cut them to size). To join the pallets together you will need four corner brackets, a box of screws, and two pairs of hook and eye latches. You’ll also need a drill, a screwdriver, and a saw.

Building a Compost Bin with Pallets

Stand three pallets up, lean them against each other so the two side walls are flush with the width of the back wall. Screw them together to hold them in place while you add the brackets.

Screw a bracket at the top and bottom of each corner of the bin. The bin walls are now complete.

Using a saw, cut the fourth pallet in half between two of the rear slats and then between two of the front slats. These will be used to make a stable door to make filling the bin and keeping the contents in easy.

Attach the doors to the walls using two strong hinges per door. Make sure the bottom door is slightly up off the ground so it can swing open freely, and for the same reason leave a slight gap between the bottom and top doors. The final step is to screw in your hook and eye latches near the top of each door.

This is all that’s needed, but for additional strength and rigidity you can screw in plate brackets at the rear corners and hammer in lengths of rebar either side of the walls.

You can also attach wire mesh to the outside of the bin to help contain the contents, if you wish.

It’s easy to add more compost bins alongside the first to expand your composting capacity. Three bays is a good setup; the first bay is the active bay that is currently having material added to; the middle bay is full and actively composting; and the third bay is ready-to-use mature compost.

Learn more about building your own compost bin in this video.

Get More Tips With These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

10 Smart Watering Tips for Your Vegetable Garden

watering the garden

Photo by Getty Images/Mike Harrington

1. Water Selectively: Only water if your plants really need it. Dig a small hole with a trowel (or just poke your finger in) to check for soil moisture at root level.

2. Time Your Watering: Water early in the morning to give crops time to absorb the moisture before it evaporates in the heat of the day. This also allows any water that gets on the foliage time to dry off before nightfall, helping to minimize problems with slugs and fungal diseases. Watering heavily now and then will encourage a more extensive root system than watering little and often.

3. Take Careful Aim: When watering by hand, aim at the base of plants where it’s needed. This will also keep foliage dry.

4. Trap Water: Sink plastic pots or upturned bottles with the cap removed and the bottom cut off up to the rim next to thirsty plants such as squash. Water into the pot; the water will reach the roots instead of running off the soil surface.

5. Irrigate Efficiently: Automatic drip irrigation or leaky hoses are less wasteful than sprinklers. Override the timer if there has been rain or if rain is due.

6. Choose Pots Carefully: Clay pots, such as terracotta pots, wick moisture out of the potting soil because they are porous, and metal pots heat up very quickly, which speeds up evaporation. Choose plastic or glazed pots instead. You can disguise ugly pots within a more decorative metal or terracotta outer pot if you wish. Group pots together to cast shade at root level and slow evaporation.

7. Add Organic Matter: Soils rich in organic matter absorb and retain moisture better. Add thin layers in summer so you can fork it in and replant, then add thicker layers over winter.

8. Mulch Regularly: Landscape fabrics can be used as mulch, or pebbles and stones on pots, but the best mulches are of well-rotted, organic matter such as compost. Apply 2-inch thick layers of organic mulch to moist soil. Keep mulches topped up throughout summer.

9. Collect Rainwater: Collect water off your roof, greenhouse, and shed into water barrels close to where you’ll most need the water. Multiple barrels can be linked together for greater water storage capacity. Check local rules on rainwater harvesting first.

10. Remove Weeds: Weeds compete with your plants for soil moisture. Hoe off annual weeds and leave them on the soil surface, but make sure to dig out the roots of more pernicious perennials.

Learn more about wise watering techniques in this video.

Get More Tips With These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

How to Grow Delicious Herbs in Containers

potted herbs

Photo by Getty Images/YinYang

Herbs make excellent plants to grow in just about any type of container. You can grow one type alone in a pot or mix and match a few that enjoy the same growing conditions. For instance, drought-tolerant herbs such as rosemary and thyme enjoy full sun and sharp drainage, while parsley and chives grow well together in a shadier spot.

Mint is particularly suited to being grown in its own pot because it is extremely vigorous and will tend to out-compete neighboring plants.

Planting Up a Herb Container

Terra-cotta urns, galvanized tubs, wicker-framed planters — your choice of container can be as traditional or quirky as you like! Just make sure it has drainage holes. If it doesn’t already have them, you’ll need to drill some into the base.

Place a few broken pieces of pot over the drainage holes to prevent the potting soil from being washed out. For best drainage, mix in some handfuls of grit or fine gravel to your potting soil. Add and mix them together in stages as you fill the container.

When the container is nearly full, arrange your herbs, still in their pots, on top. Position trailing herbs or spreading herbs at the front where they can creep over the edge. Taller herbs should go to the back or in the middle, with bushier plants in between. Once you’re happy with the positioning, take the herbs out of their pots and plant them in the container.

Water your herbs well. You may need to add a little more potting soil once you’ve done this, as it will settle and sink. You can finish the display off with a top-dressing of gravel or pebbles. To ensure good drainage, elevate the container off the ground slightly. Large flat pebbles, bricks, or purpose-made pot feet will all do the job.

Caring For Potted Herbs

Herbs are low maintenance, even in pots. Make sure to keep fleshy-leaved herbs like parsley and basil well-watered, but avoid overwatering drought-tolerant aromatic herbs with finer leaves such as rosemary or thyme. Water your herbs with an organic liquid fertilizer every few weeks during the growing season to keep them producing plenty of fresh new shoots. Picking regularly will also encourage herbs to produce lots more new leaves.

In harsh winters, wrap pots in bubble wrap or burlap stuffed with straw or scrunched-up newspaper to help prevent the roots from freezing solid. You could also move containers into a protected environment such as a greenhouse to keep them free of frost and snow.

Learn more about growing herbs in containers in this video.

Get More Tips With These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Growing Raspberries from Planting to Harvest

raspberries

Photo by Getty Images/GomezDavid

Raspberries are best grown in a sunny, sheltered position, but they will also produce fruit in partial shade. Raspberries need rich, moisture retentive soil, and will thrive in cool climates.

How to Plant Raspberries

Plant 1-year-old raspberry canes from late fall in milder areas, or spring if you experience very cold winters.

Raspberry canes purchased in pots can be planted in individual holes, but it’s easier to dig a trench for bare-root canes then spread the roots of each cane out along the row. Space raspberry canes 18 inches apart, with about 4 feet between rows. Cut the canes back to 9 inches tall after planting to encourage new growth.

Supporting Raspberries

Drive in a pair of 6-foot tall upright posts on either end of your row of raspberries, and stretch strong galvanized wire between them. Two horizontal wires are sufficient to support fall-bearing raspberries, but three horizontal wires are required for summer-fruiting varieties.

Harvesting and Using Raspberries

Pick raspberries as soon as they have colored up all over. They should pull away easily from their central plug.

Raspberries are best consumed as soon as possible after picking. Try them with yogurt or cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Freeze gluts for later use in smoothies and desserts, or make raspberry jam.

Pruning Raspberries

There are two types of raspberry. Summer-fruiting raspberries develop their fruit on last year’s growth, while fall-bearing types produce berries on new canes.

Prune summer-fruiting raspberries once they’ve stopped fruiting for the year. Cut all the fruited canes to the ground. Tie the strongest canes that remain to the wire supports using garden string, aiming for one cane every 4 inches of wire. Cut out any additional canes.

Cut out all the canes of fall-bearing raspberries in late winter.

Pull or dig up new canes that sprout up away from the row. You can use these to raise new plants if your existing stock is disease-free.

Learn more about how to grow raspberries in this video.

More Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Growing Leeks from Sowing to Harvest

leeks

Photo by Getty Images/Grahamphoto23

Leeks are hardy enough to grow outdoors through winter in most regions. You can make the harvest period last from autumn right through to spring by carefully selecting a mix of varieties. Look out for varieties described as ‘rust resistant’ if this fungal disease is a problem in your area.

Start sowing under cover from late winter. Our Garden Planner provides personalized sowing, planting, and harvesting times for crops in your location, using data from your nearest weather station.

Sowing Leeks

Sieve potting soil into pots or trays. Gently tamp it down. Sow the seeds about an inch apart (or sow two seeds per cell in a plug tray). Sieve more potting soil over them to cover, and then water them. Keep the potting soil moist but not too wet as the seeds germinate and grow on.

Place early sowings on a sunny indoor windowsill or in a greenhouse. As they grow, you can separate the seedlings into individual pots if you wish.

Planting Leeks

Transplant your leeks into well-dug soil when they are 6 to 8 inches tall. Make sure to harden them off first by leaving them outside for increasingly longer periods over a week or two.

Dig holes that are nearly as deep as the leek seedlings are high using a purpose-made tool or the handle-end of a short garden tool such as a trowel. The holes should be spaced 6 inches apart, with a foot between rows. If you’re planting in blocks, space them 7 inches apart each way.

Carefully remove the leeks from their pots and (if they haven’t already been separated) and tease the roots apart. Place the seedlings into the holes, making sure the roots reach right down to the bottom. Fill the holes with water and leave to drain. Do not fill in the holes — the soil will naturally fall back in with time, blanching the stems while allowing them to swell.

Grow fast-growing salads in between your newly planted leeks to make the most of your space, but make sure to harvest them by midsummer, when the leeks will need the space to grow well. Water the plants in very dry weather and hand-weed or hoe the ground between them regularly.

For exceptionally long, white stems, draw the soil up around the leeks two to three weeks before you want to harvest them to exclude light. Alternatively, tie cardboard tubes around the stems.

Harvest your leeks as soon as they’re big enough. Lever a leek out with a fork while pulling up on the leaves. In very cold regions you may wish to dig up your leeks before the soil freezes solid, but in many areas hardy varieties can be left in the ground and dug up as needed.

Learn more about growing leeks in this video.

Get More Tips With These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.