Our garden was invaded this past summer. The enemy? Blight, bugs and bullies in the form of hornworms. We lost a lot, but our troops were, mostly, still standing at the close of the season.
Last season, we planted our tomatoes all together. While we harvested a pretty good crop for our first year, we lost quite a few to the tobacco hornworms. And more to the drought followed by heavy rains. Aphids and Japanese beetles attacked just about everything and squash bugs decimated our spaghetti squash and most of our pumpkins.
There really wasn’t a whole lot we could have done to protect from the sporadic rain. We watered with our soaker hoses, but when it monsooned, the plants got WAY too much water way too fast causing the fruit to split or not ripen at all. We rescued a few tomatoes and were able to freeze them and use them in the sauce I made, but we also lost some.
The tobacco hornworm, aphids, Japanese beetles and squash bugs are another story. By planting all of the crops together, we left the them vulnerable to the mass invasion. Once one was infected, the rest had no chance of survival. We can try to avoid that tragedy next year.
How? Extreme, strategic, companion planting.
We, sort of, did that last year. In our kitchen garden we put plants that helped each other out together, but we still planted a clump of tomatoes, a clump of peppers, a clump of lettuce, etc. After going through the permaculture design course, I learned that this is called “monocropping“.
Monocropping is a common farming practice. It is economically efficient, but not so great for the soil. It can reduce or deplete the soil nutrients and if one parasite starts munching on one plant, you can pretty much bet the whole crop will be lost or affected. I mean, if you were hungry and found a table full of food that you loved, you’d set up camp there until you were stuffed and then invite all of your friends to come and join the party.
Plus, the fragility of the ecosystem requires a greater dependency on pesticides…something we are trying to avoid.
So, my job after the insanity of the holiday season: plan next year’s garden using strategic companion planting.
I know for sure we are going to plant tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli. So for the brassicas (cabbage and broccoli family), I will intersperse nasturtium as a “trap crop” food source for the caterpillars that have a taste for cabbage. They will eat the nasturtiums instead.
I’ll plant marigolds…everywhere…to deter aphids from feeding on, well, everything.
Chives and garlic will be everywhere to help deter the Japanese beetle. We’ll also set up the Japanese beetle traps all over the property. They worked pretty good this past season.
And for the dreaded tobacco horn worm? The chickens will help take care of that infestation, and there’s always my little bug hunter who can pick them off.
Stay tuned for a map of next year’s garden with a full battle plan for troops on the ground and in the air.