Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
Before I started gardening I was able to close my eyes and picture a beautifully landscaped garden which was overflowing in vegetables. For some reason the gardens I pictured were always quaint, inviting, and very decorative. When I thought about growing home vegetables I didn't picture straight rows or mono-crops. Instead there were flowers and trees interplanted with veggies, pathways, and garden statues placed around. Little did I know that my instincts were right! A "vegetable" garden that incorporates flowers and herbs is more productive as these serve more of a function than just beauty. And those statues or garden decorations are more than just interesting to look at, they are also beneficial to your vegetables. Unfortunately, my eagerness to start growing food when I put in my first garden prompted me to plant in straight rows and stick just to planting vegetables. I didn't give another thought to that dream garden in the first two years. Over time though, I began to get the vegetable growing thing down and was able to spend more time beautifying my garden. Well, it was something that I should not have put off because it has served my vegetables well and now I recommend considering planting flowers and herbs right beside your vegetables from the get-go.
Flowers and herbs do so much more than add tranquility and beauty to your garden. They can serve as an army against the pests that bother your vegetable plants. We all know about herbal medicine and botanical extracts for things like repelling insects, etc. Well it's no different for your vegetables! Plant patches of flowers in between your vegetables to either deter or attract the bugs that you want. The essences that flowers and herbs emit can work like the most intoxicating perfume or poisonous spray to protect your plants when you're not there. Some annuals can easily be planted directly in with your vegetable transplants while perennials might be best planted as a border to your vegetable garden. Here's a list of some flowers and herbs and the best way to use them:
Nasturtium - This is an annual that is easily started from seed either indoors and transplanted out or directly seeded in the garden. Start them before putting your vegetable transplants in so that they have a head start. Once they are established, they can work as a trap crop, which means that they will attract the pesky bugs to themselves and keep them away from your precious veggies. They will attract aphids and black and white flies, so plant them nearby vegetables that are commonly bothered by these pests. They will also repel borers and squash bugs so plant them close to things like summer squash and zucchini. As an added benefit, nasturtiums are edible!
Petunia - This is another annual and you will find it at every garden center so it's very easy to come by. They offer big beautiful bursts of color all season long which will attract wonderful things like butterflies and bees to pollinate your garden. Their real benefit in the garden though is to deter beetles which can devastate things like cucumbers and beans.
Marigolds - Filling your garden with marigolds is easy since you will find flats of them at every garden center and they will spread into big puffs of color that also emit a strong insect repellant. Marigolds are best planted amongst vegetables bothered by beetles such as cucumbers, potatoes, and beans. They also serve to ward off the invisible root knot nematode, which is a tiny soil bug that you probably won't see, but will see it's effects when a plant dies and it's roots are then found to have knots all in them.
Borage - This is considered an annual herb and you can use it medicinally as a calming tea or eat it fresh to flavor dishes with a taste similar to cucumber, but it also grows large with interesting leaves and small pretty flowers. The bees will love it, but the tomato hornworms won't. Plant it in between your tomatoes to repel these troublesome pests, but be sure to give it room as it will sprawl and could grow quite large or simply trellis it up with your tomatoes.
Castor bean - This is easily started from seeds sown directly in the garden, but be warned that the seeds are poisonous. The plant will grow very tall and looks similar to okra with hibiscus type flowers. It's roots emit a strong scent underground that repels moles so it's great to plant by root vegetables such as sweet potatoes or regular potatoes. It will also repel mosquitos from the area so planting some around the corners of your garden will protect you from mosquitoes while your work.
White hellebore - This flower can be very beautiful, but is also known to be poisonous and will spread a bit so planting it on the border of a garden will allow it room to grow and come back year after year. They are evergreen, bloom in winter, and prefer some shade so plant it under a fruit or ornamental tree. Their benefit is that they will repel the cabbage moth which will lay eggs on your cabbage, collards, kale, and other brassicas which hatch into worms that will eat your vegetables before you can. They will also repel slugs and could be a good border plant around things like strawberry beds.
Tansy - This perennial can be started indoors and transplanted out or direct seeded in the garden. Once it is established, it will spread and can be divided each year to plant in other locations. It will grow about 2-3 feet tall and has beautiful yellow puffs of flowers in the summer. This plant is used medicinally, but can be toxic. Tansy is a strong insect repellant and will emit a scent that will keep away japanese beetles, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, ants, and colorado potato beetle. Fill your garden border with tansy and these insects won't want to stop by.
Mint - This plant will spread like crazy, but if planted in the border of your garden it can work wonders at repelling pests such as flea beetles and cabbage moths. You can also collect the leaves for medicinal tea or to scatter around closest and windows to deter indoor pests. Be warned that once you plant mint, you probably won't be able to eradicate it, so be sure to plant it in a spot where it can keep growing and spreading.
Wormwood - This is an evergreen shrub that will grow about 4 feet wide so give it room in the corners of your garden. It's scent will repel flea beetles, cabbageworms, mice, and slugs, but it's roots can emit an enzyme that stops nearby plants from growing, so it likes a space all to it's own. Definitely don't plant it amongst your veggies, but rather in the border.
Rosemary - Here is another evergreen shrub that requires some space, but is a wonderful border plant. Not only can you use the herb in cooking, but it will also deter cabbage moths, bean beetles, and carrot flies. I think you can never have too much rosemary around, so use it as a hedge and let it grow large or plant it in the center of a square bed of vegetables.
Birds can be your garden workers for you if you attract them. Plant tall sturdy flowers like sunflowers right along side your vegetables which will give the birds a safe place to perch while they hunt for insects. They will eat pests like grasshoppers before they have a chance to reproduce and take over your garden. Also, setting out bird feeders and baths will draw in wild birds to hunt bugs and planting thorny rose bushes not only add beauty to your garden but will provide safe places for birds to nest. The added benefit is they will rid your plants of worms and caterpillars as they feed their young. Beautiful honeysuckle vines grown on interesting trellises will fill the air with a sweet scent while you work in the garden and will attract birds as your helpers. Elderberry bushes in the corners of your garden will give you edible fruit, but will also attract beneficial birds. Purple Martins will spend all day and night scooping insects out of the air so be sure to include houses to attract them. For more information about how to attract Martin breeding pairs read this page. Of course, you can grow your own birdhouse gourds and the following year make your own birdhouses! This page gives instructions on making gourd houses for Martins.
Toads can be your allies given the number of bugs they eat, but you will need to make your garden appealing to them more than just providing the food. Those garden statues and cute little decorations can serve as housing for toads which will want to make them stay around. If you can't attract toads to your garden, then go hunting for them. Look around ponds and creeks and catch some toads and relocate them to your garden. Give them structures spread around the garden to tunnel in for shade and cool soil. Something as simple as an over turned terra cotta pot with a piece broken out or a hole for them to climb in will give them housing. They will seek the shade and moist soil that can be trapped under garden structures. They will also need shallow places for water to collect so laying interesting stepping stones that have embossed designs and pockets for water will make them happy. If you can get the toads to stick around they will reward you by eating copious amounts of crickets, grubs, caterpillars, squash bugs, and beetles!
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