The 3 sisters: corn, beans and squash
Today, I have an excellent companion planting chart to share with you.
But first, let’s briefly get into what companion planting is and why it can be useful.
Companion gardening involves pairing plants that work well together.
I’ll use the 3 sister guild as an example, which are 3 plants that were originally combined by Native Americans in such a way that the plants all helped each other out.
The plants are:
- Corn. Provides a support for the beans.
- Pole Beans. Provide nitrogen for the soil.
- Squash. Leaves hug the soil to decrease weeds and evaporation.
This is an excellent example of vegetable companion planting. They all help each other, and they even work together to make a reasonably balanced meal.
Just these 3 plants show us that companion plants can act as a scaffold, improve organic soil fertility, and decrease weeds and evaporation. Some of the other benefits might be:
- Attracting beneficial insects and other organisms
- Decreased disease and insect predators
- Healthier plants through symbiotic relationships
- Increased overall yields
Is The Companion Planting Guide Scientific?
Of course, much of the vegetable companion planting chart is not hard science. Skeptics are quick to point out that a lot of this stuff comes from anecdotal evidence, which is partially true.
(There is research on the benefits of companion planting, but it can be difficult to find research on specific crop combinations.)
Fortunately, when the anecdotal evidence comes from tens of thousands of gardeners and farmers over the last century and beyond, we know there’s something to it. Science is great, but when we rely on it as the only answer, we can get into trouble.
Now, if I accidentally plant my onions right beside my beans, it’s probably not going to be a big disaster. And if I plant those onions next to my tomatoes instead, I’m not going to double my yields.
The rules at play here are more subtle, and it probably depends on many environmental factors.
But I’ve seen the effects of companion planting vegetables, so I follow many of the guidelines. It certainly doesn’t hurt.
That doesn’t mean I don’t break the rules, but I do find them to be a nice starting point when I’m planting every spring. It helps establish a bunch of potential groupings.
Otherwise, it can be difficult to know where to begin when laying out 50 different crops in my organic garden.
Even a mesclun mix is a better than a monoculture
As you probably know, a monoculture is a big garden or field of just one crop, while companion planting looks at 2-3 plants.
The companion planting chart refers to how any two given plants will interact with each other.
A polyculture, on the other hand, blends many plants together. It produces many unknown interactions between, just as in nature.
In it’s simplest form, it just means that we combine a bunch of plants together in the garden in order to increase overall biodiversity and make use of different niches in the garden.
So we plant some root crops, groundcovers, herbs, bigger plants, and so on, all together. They’ll have different root systems and different above ground heights.
Some grow tall and provide shade and others hug the ground. Some are ready for harvest early, while others wait a while, even within the same food group, such as lettuces.
With a lot of experimentation and observation, you can hit upon a collection of crops that work well together for your organic garden. But even without all the planning, simply by combining these plants, we get increased biodiversity and the benefits that come with that.
We’ll have reduced yields on some plants and others may not do well at all during the experimentation phase, but we should have better overall garden health and often improved yields overall.
I don’t do straight, monoculture rows in my vegetable garden anymore. Each bed may have 10-20 plants all mingling together, perhaps 15 food plants and 5 beneficials such as wild marigold, nasturtium, yarrow, chamomile, bee balm or any number of others.
So if you usually plant straight rows, you may want to experiment with a polyculture this fall or next year.
Companion Planting Chart
These combinations aren’t carved in stone, but the chart is a great starting point. It was designed by Yayasan IDEP Foundation (based on the Companion Planting Chart © Perennial Products NSW).
Right-click on it to save it to your computer (save the link, not the image, in order to get a full page pdf).
Any questions? Let me know in the comments below. Do you do any companion planting?