Polytunnel Growing For Beginners

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Polytunnel Growing For Beginners

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Introduction to Polytunnels

1.1 What is a polytunnel?

A polytunnel usually consists of a metallic, plastic or a wooden frame, covered with polythene or other similar materials. Polytunnels usually have an elongated shape, strongly resembling a tunnel.

Different shapes and sizes of polytunnels can be built, to create microclimates suited for different types of vegetation.

Wider Scope

With polytunnels, it’s easier to grow fruits and vegetables that wouldn’t normally thrive in your climate. Additionally, they offer protection for your crops, against harsh weather conditions, such as; hail, high winds, frost, thunderstorms, including animals and certain pests.

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Advantages of a Polytunnel

As mentioned before, a polytunnel will allow you to grow fruits and vegetables, that otherwise would not thrive in your climate. In warmer climates, polytunnels can extend the season of growth for many months, (sometimes all year round).

Control

Humidity, irrigation, and airflow can be easily controlled and adjusted. Polytunnels are much more affordable than greenhouses and are also easier to install and maintain.

Crops in the polytunnel will thrive in any season, providing the perfect germination environment in the early spring, due to higher sunlight absorption. Your tunnel will be hot in the summer and keep your plants alive in the winter if insulated properly.

The possibility of installing, a simple yet effective irrigation system, makes growing crops in your tunnel even easier.

Climate

It is possible to create a “Mediterranean” climate in the tunnel, meaning you can grow more exotic fruits and vegetables. If you use bubble wrap to insulate it in the winter, you can prolong the growing season even more. After the winter is over, you can remove the bubble wrap and reuse it next year.

Affordability

Polytunnels are much more affordable than greenhouses, and instead of buying a small greenhouse, you can build a polytunnel 4-5 times of its size, for the same cost. Polytunnels can be more easily moved around the garden, making it easier to rotate crops when necessary.

Yield

Polytunnels are used to grow most of the fruits and vegetables we can buy in the stores. Increasingly large numbers of farmers use polytunnels, as a green alternative to increase their crop production. Farmers, that are otherwise limited to grow specific crops, due to their climate (in the UK for example), are now able to grow chili, tea, coffee, kiwis and grapes.

Essential Gardening Equipment

Soil pH Testing 

You need to make sure that you accurately test your soil to give your plants the best chance. This Apera kit has ±0.1 pH accuracy, see the star ratings over at Amazon.

Germination

The best way to germinate your seeds so that they have a great start is with a germination kit. Seeds that are grown this way produce greater results. Check the specs of the MXIC over at Amazon

Spade

A trusted spade is a gardeners best friend, it helps you do the work. A long handled spade is the most effective type and this DeWit with a lifetime guarantee is our favorite – see the quality at Amazon.

Gardening Tool Set

For the finer work in the garden, we need those handy tools to help us cultivate. One that you can carry around in the garden is best and we like this well designed set with super reviews at Amazon.

Greenhouse

Every advanced gardener has a greenhouse and with so many benefits how can we do without. The acceleration and growth rate when using a greenhouse is worth the cost. The Exaco 116 square foot with safety glass is ideal at Amazon. On a budget see the poly tunnel at Amazon.

Dehydrating

One of the issues people have is that their crops produce all at once. The best way to overcome this is with a dehydrator so you can store your food for years and the flavor is amazing. The best one on the market is the Excalibur with a 10 year guarantee, see it at Amazon.

Disadvantages of a Polytunnel + Solutions

Minor disadvantages

  • The polythene can be damaged by birds and other animals
  • If not properly installed, it can be moved by strong wind
  • They don’t allow the rain to enter, (so you have to set up an irrigation system or water regularly)
  • It has to be ventilated properly, to avoid excess humidity (and mold)
  • It can overheat in the summer

If you build your polytunnel with care and ventilate it properly, you should already be avoiding two of the disadvantages.

Rainfall

When it comes to rain, most of the time we have to water our gardens regularly, despite some rainfall in the season. When watering and irrigating your polytunnel, should be much easier and more controllable, as it will retain humidity for longer. If the tunnel overheats in the summer, you can cool it off with water, proper ventilation, added shading or even fans.

Will My Crops be Bigger + Grow Faster?

With proper care, your crops will grow faster, bigger and for extended periods of time (earlier and longer than on your garden).

Examples

The plants that are proven to be healthier and grow faster, include; onions, beetroots, sweetcorn, tomatoes, and strawberries. You can even grow onion from seeds, and it will be much healthier, and suffer from fewer pests, compared to planting it outside.

Quicker and fast mature

For example, you can enjoy vegetables (like French beans) much earlier, and eat your first plate of beans before the outdoors beans even start to bloom!

Due to the prolonged periods, in which you can repeatedly grow some crops, your yield will definitely be bigger than growing solely in your garden.

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Temperature differences in the polytunnel

Polytunnels get warmer than the outside temperatures, and the difference in temperature can be substantial. Many of the crops will love this hotter climate. However, proper ventilation is always important when dealing with excess humidity and heat.

Polytunnel Temperature

The temperatures in your polytunnel will definitely be higher than the outside temperatures, offering you to grow varieties of fruits and vegetables, that you wouldn’t be able to grow in your climate. The best way to control overheating and humidity is to ventilate it regularly. On very hot days, it might be more challenging to cool it down, so for hotter climates, you can install a different type of polythene and frame (we will discuss this later).

Temperature Increase Examples

If the temperature outside is 90 F (32 degrees Celsius), more likely that the temperature in the polytunnel, can reach up to 110 F (43 degrees). If the night temperature is 70 F (21 degrees), more likely it can reach up to 85 F (29 degrees) or more in the tunnel. If the temperatures inside the polytunnel reach over 90 F (32 degrees), this might stop the fruiting process of certain crops, such as tomatoes. In this case, it’s very important to keep your tunnel well ventilated, cool it off with water, and even provide some shading if necessary, to keep it at optimal temperatures.

Winter Warmth

To ensure that the temperatures in your polytunnel don’t drop too low in winter, there are quite a few ways to keep the tunnel warm;

  • Insulating your tunnel with bubble wrap
  • Protecting the crops with garden fleece and mulch
  • Heating up your tunnel (optional)

Winter Temperature

Depending on your climate and the ability to protect and insulate the tunnel for the winter, you might be able to grow even in the wintertime. If insulated properly, the temperature difference should be enough, to keep your crops alive and growing. In point 3.5 you can read about, what veggies you can be planted in the winter.

Different Types of Polytunnels

Solar polytunnels

Come with the standard design, except for the cover. Instead of a single layer of polythene, they usually consist of double layers, which are reinforced with a nylon mesh. This makes them more resistant and better insulated. They are more expensive than the regular polytunnels, and don’t allow that much light to come through (compared to regular ones).

Panel houses

Are a mix between a polytunnel and a greenhouse. They use a variety of a polytunnel frame, and plastic panels are added on top. They are more expensive than regular polytunnels but are better protected and insulated.

Regular polytunnels (as described before)

What to Grow?

Many of the fruits and vegetables on the market today, are grown in some kind of a polytunnel or a greenhouse. You can grow pretty much anything in a polytunnel, except for the crops that are not very fond of higher temperatures and humidity.

Common Polytunnel Plants

The most common polytunnel grown plants are; tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, strawberries, peppers, lettuce, radish, melons, cauliflower, chili, peas, beans, cabbage, onion, carrots, basil, coriander, peaches, and grapes. We will give you more information about this, in the following chapters.

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Types of Polytunnels

The sizes of tunnels can be very different, depending on many factors;

  • The available budget
  • The ability to store your produce
  • The extent that you would like to grow your own fruits and vegetables
  • The time you can invest in taking care of your polytunnel
  • The time and money, it will take to maintain and clean the tunnel

The type of crops you are planning to grow (you can even grow grapevine or fruit trees, while some other crops will require much less space).

Polytunnel for Beginners

If you are a beginner, you can try with a smaller more affordable tunnel (220 x 200x 200 / 350 x 200 x 200 cm). These tunnels can be purchased online for less than 100 dollars, but more likely won’t last too many years, and can be used to “test the field”.

Long Term

If you love to garden, and you have some time and money to spend, investing in a bigger polytunnel is a good idea. These tunnels can be high and long and can spread all over your garden if you wish. Keep in mind, all the above-mentioned factors, when planning the size of your tunnel.

We also prepared an informative list, of approximate sizes of different polytunnels (mini, small, medium, large and commercial), for better understanding.

Different polytunnel sizes

(Note – These sizes are informative only, as polytunnels can come in countless dimensions).

Mini polytunnels

Mini polytunnels start with sizes 118 x 24 x 18 inches (300 x 60 x 45 cm) and similar. They cannot be entered but you can open the sides or the ends, to access your crops.

Domestic garden polytunnels

These types of polytunnel can be entered most of the time (you can go inside and work on your crops).

  • SMALL – starting with 100 x 78 x 78 inches/ 250 x 200 x 200 cm and 137 x 78 x 78 inches/ 350 x 200 x 200 cm
  • MEDIUM – approximate examples – 400 x 200 x 200 /157 x 78 x 78 inches and to 800 x 400 x 200 cm /312 x 157 x 78 inches
  • LARGER – Larger polytunnels come in all the sizes larger than the medium but smaller than the commercial polytunnels described below. For example – 800 x 400 x 280 cm (26 x 13 x 9 feet) and more.

Commercial polytunnels

Commercial polytunnels are designed to grow large amounts of fruits and vegetables and are often used by big farms and companies that sell fruits and vegetables at the market. Some passionate gardeners or small farmers might decide to invest in one of these, as it might last for many years, producing enough fruits and vegetables to store until the next year.

  • Width can be from 16 – 30 feet (487 – 914 cm or more)- Length can be from 30 – 90 feet ( 914- 2700 cm or more)- Height can be around 8- 10 feet (243- 305 cm) For example: 2000 x 500 x 280 cm (2o x 5 x 2.8 meters) which makes (65 x 16 x 9 feet).

Layouts

The layout of your polytunnel is very important. You will have to enter and exit it daily, cleaning weeds, watering and opening the “doors” and potential “windows”, to ensure proper air circulation.

Outlaying your gardening areas, inside the tunnel properly, will make the experience easier and more pleasant, also maximizing the space available to grow crops.

Depending on the size of the tunnel and your personal preference, you can layout the tunnel to your needs, but there are some things that you might want to consider;

  • You have to fit in between the plants (to move around relatively easily)
  • You can make 1-2 paths in between (or more in very large ones), depending on the size and length of the tunnel
  • You want to maximize the space to grow your crops, but not to the extent that you won’t be able to enter the tunnel and work inside.

Low Lying Polytunnels

Tunnels which are smaller in size (and there are quite a few), cannot be entered, and you can access them opening the sides or the ends of the polythene covers (to ventilate, water your plants and clean the weeds). Many gardening tunnels can be very long but only 18 or 20 inches high, reaching to your knees, for example.

Polytunnels do come in many shapes in sizes, from mini, small, medium and large for home use, and also commercial for bigger farms or mass production.

Duration

The duration of the polytunnel depends on the quality of the materials used for the frame, and also the quality of the polythene used for covering.

Polythene Longevity

When it comes to polythene, there are also different types and qualities. The different types of polythene and their specific properties will also be discussed shortly. Most of the polyethylene coverings should be replaced every 5 years, but better-quality ones, can last up to 10 years or even more. Read more about duration in the sections, types of frames and types of coverings (2.4 and 2.5).

Types of frames

The frame is the base of a polytunnel, as it gives the tunnel its structure and stability. The materials used for the frame, determine the tunnel’s durability, stability, and insulation. Each of the materials used comes with its pros and cons.

Frame Structure

The most important thing about the frame is, that it should be strong enough to protect the structure from, bad weather conditions such as; hail, storms, strong wind, and snow. There are a few materials that are used in the construction of most frames, and these are;

Galvanized Steel

Resistant to corrosion and strong. It can support the tunnel itself, and additional accessories such as fans, pots, containers, and more. Of course, they are different qualities of steel frames too, as some of the cheaper ones can be thinner and more fragile (can bend and damage more easily, and might collapse under snow).

When choosing galvanized steel frames, invest in better quality ones, that will last you for years to come.

Aluminum

Aluminum is commonly used to construct polytunnels and greenhouses. It’s affordable, easier to assemble and doesn’t corrode. Aluminum frames don’t retain as much heat in the tunnel, as the steel ones. When it comes to stability and durability in harsh weather (strong winds, lots of snow), the aluminum frames can bend and break easier.

Wooden

Wood can be an alternative material when building a polytunnel or a greenhouse. It’s relatively easy to shape and adjust. When assembled properly, it can last for extended periods, but only when it’s properly protected (varnished, treated, etc.).

Wood Maintenance

If we fail to protect the wooden structure, different molds, algae, and fungi can attack the wood, and potentially attack your crops too.

Building a wood structure can be durable, strong and long-lasting when properly treated.

Plastic (PVC)

Plastic is very affordable and has good insulating properties. Similar to aluminum, it doesn’t bode well in harsh weather conditions. Especially cheaper plastic frames, can break easily and have to be often repaired or replaced. It’s an option to consider if you require a lighter, more portable polytunnel, and the weather conditions in your climate are relatively stable.

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Types of coverings

  • Exceptionally clear polythene – this type of polythene, as the name suggests, allows more than 95 % of light to reach the tunnel. This type can be used in areas with lower light levels
  • White polythene – this type allows up to 70 % of light to reach the tunnel. It prevents the heat to build up excessively, and it’s appropriate for plants that naturally grow in partial shade
  • Green polythene– allows up to 65 % of light to reach the tunnel. It mostly absorbs the spectrum of red light and it’s UV stable. It resembles the conditions of the forest floor, and it’s appropriate for plants who grow on such habitats.
  • Green and white – this type of polythene allows 0 % light in the tunnel. It’s highly resistant to UV damage, and it’s usually used for livestock, storage, or to grow certain types of mushrooms.

Cost of a polytunnel

Costs of a polytunnel can be very different, depending on the materials and the size you want. For simpler, lighter polytunnels, prices start at $60 (250x200x200 cm).

Depending on the nature of the polytunnel (lifelong or just shorter-term use), you will have to invest more or less money. If you just want to test it out, you can always go for cheaper versions. If you plan to grow and store more fruits and vegetables and preserve the tunnel for many years to come, you might want to invest more.

Price Range

Depending on the construction, the size and the materials used, a polytunnel can cost you from 50 to more than 1000 dollars. It’s safe to say, that you can buy a good enough polytunnel, for as little as 150-400 dollars, again depending on the size and the strength of the construction.

Custom Polytunnels

If you are going big, the prices will be higher, especially if you are hiring people to help you build a custom-built polytunnel. There are many different options to choose from, and most of them can be ordered online and delivered to your doorstep.

Build Your Own

You can always build your own polytunnel, with some basic construction skills, or order the frame and cover it yourself. When it comes to cost, price is no excuse not to have a polytunnel, as they come at many affordable prices, or you can even build one yourself.

Installation – How to Build One

Some polytunnels are relatively easy to assemble and require less work. Those are usually lightweight and smaller ones. When building a large polytunnel, more work will be required, including;

  • Digging holes, to safely and efficiently secure the frame
  • Assembly of the frame (wooden, aluminum, steel), some of them might be more challenging
  • Properly stretching the polythene covers, to ensure the optimal function of the tunnel

Pinning to Ground

As we mentioned, smaller polytunnels might be much easier to assemble, just following the instructions that you get with purchasing one. It might take some time and effort, but more likely you will be able to do it yourself. Smaller and lighter polytunnels might come with metallic pins or poles to secure them to the ground (burying them into the soil).

Foundations

Larger constructions will need stronger support, therefore you will need to dig holes in the ground, to safely secure the structure of your polytunnel. You can say that they require some sort of a “foundation”. In areas with very strong wind, a foundation can safely secure your polytunnel. The foundations can be set in concrete (the structure and the door frames), to ensure that the tunnel will stay in place.

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Using a Polytunnel

The polytunnel will allow you to grow crops, that otherwise wouldn’t grow in your climate (might be too cold).

Benefits of using a polytunnel

They can extend the growing season, and if you live in a somewhat warmer area, you can even use them to grow crops in winter. Building a polytunnel is easier and more affordable than building a greenhouse. When properly built, it will protect your crops from cold, animals, strong wind, hail and other harsh weather conditions. Many other polytunnel benefits, were discussed in point 1.2 (Benefits of polytunnels).

What Fruit Can I Plant in a Polytunnel?

Whatever you normally grow outside will be suitable for a polytunnel, depending on the size of growth and your polytunnel type. With the increase of temperatures, we have looked at, you may also be able to grow more exotic fruits – this will vary depending on your location.

Plant Examples

Examples of what you might be able to grow or improve; strawberries, melons, kiwis, figs, peaches, nectarines, and even grapes.

Which Vegetables Can I Plant a Polytunnel?

Similarly to fruits, you can extend your current range of vegetable produce, to one’s suited to hotter climates. And of course, you will increase the size and yield or your current crops.

Vegetable Examples

Some examples of what you can grow; peppers, chilies, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, aubergines (eggplants), sweet corn, spinach, lettuce, winter lettuce, onion, carrots, tomatoes, parsnip, garlic, cauliflower and more.

Which herbs I can plant in the polytunnel?

Some examples of herbs you can grow; rosemary, marjoram, sage, oregano, thyme, coriander and basil, and other herbs that thrive in a warm and humid environment. Not only herbs taste and smell good, but they can also help to repel pests and improve the growth of other crops in the tunnel.

What can I plant in the winter?

A polytunnel will extend the seasons allowing you to grow later on in the year than before.  A polytunnel will not stop the frost, but will delay it.  Sun is an important factor, so for cloudy conditions, you may not experience much of a difference.

Night Frost

During the night a polytunnel will have little bearing on protecting your crops from frost.  A polytunnel will, however, promote the growth of your crops that are planted in the season.

These veggies can be planted in the late fall or winter; carrots, garlic, kale, radish, turnips, and winter lettuce.

Can I use containers in my polytunnel?

Yes, you can use many different containers in your polytunnel. Smaller or bigger pots, old drawers, old washing machine drums, buckets, and even tires. But if there isn’t too much space in your tunnel, you might want to avoid using bigger containers, to save space, as it might make it even harder to move around.

Maintenance of your polytunnel

Watering techniques

You can use different watering techniques, depending on the size of your tunnel. If you own a relatively small tunnel, you will be able to water everything with a hose or watering cans. However, if the tunnel is bigger, bringing enough water for your plants might be more challenging, and take a lot of time. In this case, you can install automatic or semi-automatic irrigation systems on the ground, or over your head.

If the roof of your tunnel can be opened, you can open it in times of heavy rain.

Overhead irrigation

Polythene water pipes are spread on the roof of the tunnel, with sprinkles positioned approximately every meter along the tunnel. These can easily be connected to your garden hose, and you can simply activate them by connecting them to the hose, and opening the flow of water.

Ground irrigation systems

The ground irrigation systems use a similar principle than the overhead ones, the only difference is they are spread over the ground in your tunnel and spray the water directly into the soil

Manual irrigation (by hand)

Hoses and watering cans, for smaller polytunnels

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Care and cleaning

Care and cleaning of your polytunnel are important for many reasons;

  • It will help to preserve your tunnel and prolong its life
  • Preventive for any plant disease, mold and algae growth
  • To check and remove pests
  • To remove and prevent bad odors
  • It will allow more light to enter the tunnel

You can start, by rinsing the walls and roof of the tunnel with a hose. The next step would be, to get a cleaner that kills algae, and use it to clean algae from the walls of the tunnel. You can use a bucket of dish detergent, a sponge and warm water, to clean dirt and insects of the walls of your tunnel. There are some specialized pressure bottles you can buy, that can help to remove stubborn dirt from your tunnel. If you regularly address this task, your polytunnel will be more pleasant to work with, and you can help to prevent the growth of many harmful plant diseases, algae, and mold.

Ventilation

Regular ventilation of your polytunnel is very important for many reasons;

  • Keeping optimal temperatures (helps with overheating)
  • Getting rid of excess humidity
  • Offering fresh air and proper ventilation for your plants
  • Keeping your polytunnel fresher, and allowing pollination to take place

Ventilation of the tunnel should be done often, or even every day if you have the time. Most of the tunnels come with a zippable or at least movable doors and “windows”, that can be opened every day, to ensure proper ventilation.

Pest prevention

The best you can do for your health, the planet and your tunnel, is to use natural and ecological pesticide solutions. Many plant-based and relatively harmless solutions, can be found in your local garden store, to help repel pests.

One of the best things you can do in your tunnel is to plant herbs and crops that repel pests. Here are some of the best tips to prevent pests in your polytunnel;

  • Cleaning debris and removing sick and weak plants
  • Properly cleaning tools and containers
  • Promote “predatory” insects (those who feed with the pests)
  • Plant different varieties of plants and keep the soil quality good
  • Plant herbs and plants that repel pests, such as; Marigolds, Petunias, Chrysanthemums, garlic, lemongrass, rosemary, basil, tansy, mint, Yarrow (some of these plants will also repel ants, that tend to “farm” aphids)
  • Use natural pest repellents that you can buy at your local garden store, or make at home
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Overview of polytunnels

Is it worth getting one?

We hope that after reading this manual, you have already discovered if polytunnels are appropriate for you. Regarding all the benefits and very affordable options for every pocket, it’s safe to say, that it’s definitely worth to have a polytunnel to grow your crops. If you want to protect your crops, make them grow faster and bigger, and grow them before and after the season, you found your perfect solution.

Our favorite polytunnels

Our favorite polytunnels found at Amazon. We chose the simple to install and affordable options.

The easy tunnel (Giant Poly)

The easy tunnel, retains humidity and warmth, keeping the soil at the optimal temperature to enable early planting, protecting the crops from harsh weather, insects, and animals. It’s very easy to install, as it opens resembling an accordion and folds easily. It’s very easy to fold and to put away for later. The frame consists of galvanized steel, and it’s easy to secure. The cover is UV stable polythene and the ends allow easy ventilation. The size is 118 x 24 x 18 inches (300 x 60 x 45 cm), but it also comes in different sizes and materials, including; fleece, micromesh, net, and polythene, for diverse growing needs.

The “pop up” greenhouse (Quictent)

This “pop up ” greenhouse it’s very easy to install and fold (when stored). It’s made with eco-friendly material, comes with UV protection, and it’s waterproof. They provide 6 stakes to help strengthen the structure. It has 4 large zippable doors, which makes ventilation and your movement inside the tunnel easier. Additional 2 zipping windows, to adjust the temperature, airflow, and sunlight. The size is: 98 x 49 x 53 inches (250 x 124 x 134 cm).

Superdome Grow Tunnel (Bio green)

This affordable Superdome will prolong your growing seasons and give you bigger crops. It comes pre-assembled for easy installation. Two zippable side doors, allow easy watering and ventilation. The cover is made from strong UV stable polythene. It offers protection from harsh weather conditions, pests, and other animals. The loops of the construction are made with stainless steel to avoid any corrosion and give the tunnel sturdiness. Its size is 118 x 31 x 28 inches (300 x 78 x 71 cm). These options are extremely affordable and very easy to install. To show you, that polytunnels really come in many shapes and sizes, for every pocket!

We hope, that we provided detailed and useful information on choosing, building, maintaining and using your polytunnel. May it serve you well, and help you grow healthy and productive crops.

Companion Planting | Grouping Vegetables in a Garden

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Companion Planting: Grouping Vegetables in Your Garden

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1.0 What is Companion Planting

Companion planting is a way of planting specific groups, of flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs, that promote growth, produce higher yields, and repels pests.

In practice, it means pairing or grouping the plants, that help and benefit each other, due to specific properties they offer to one another.

Combinations 

For example, to partially protect your potatoes from disease, planting it together with horseradish will help. There are many beneficial combinations of veggies, herbs, and other plants, that work together very well, and we will try to inform you about the many possibilities of pairing or grouping.

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1.1 The Advantages of Companion Planting

There are quite a few benefits of companion planting, such as;

Repelling pests

The fact that certain herbs or plants can repel pests, has been known for centuries. Some plants might repel pests with their strong smell, others, will attract them, and distract them from their neighbors. In any case, they will be helpful. There are many good neighbors when it comes to this practice, and we will discuss many combinations.

Natural support

Some plants will grow tall, and others need support to grow. Corn can make a good companion for plants, such as climbing beans, that can use corn for growth and support.

The Three Sisters

If you are planning to grow squash, you can change this duo into a trio, because this beneficial combination was named “the three sisters”, due to their good compatibility.

Improving the Flavor

Many neighborly combinations are believed to improve the flavor of other crops. It’s believed, that basil improves the flavor of tomatoes and peppers, protecting them from pests at the same time.

Improving soil fertility

Some plants can make your soil more fertile. For example, planting peas or beans will give the soil more nitrogen, which can help the growth of certain other crops.

Improving appeal – with bonuses

Nasturtiums, for example, are beautiful flowers that repel many pests. They bloom in different beautiful colors, (shades of yellow, orange and red ) and are also edible! You can eat the flowers and leaves. Marigolds are known for their beauty and are widely known to repel pests. Planting useful and beautiful flowers is a win-win. We will talk about more variations later.

“Nursing”

There are many combinations of plants that pair together well, and will “nurse” each other, due to specific benefits. For example, planting garlic with beets or other veggies such as cabbage, carrots, spinach, cauliflower and more, will protect the plants from different pests (Japanese beetles, snails, moths, aphids, ants and more).

Practicality

The practicality itself, of planting crops together, to maximize and save your gardening space. Companion planting will give you a beautiful looking garden, save you lots of space, and some money on fertilizers and pesticides, as good companions might help one another thrive. Companion plants can usually be watered together and complement one another.

1.2 The Disadvantages of Companion Planting

Much of the data on companion planting is generations or even centuries old. Some data is scientifically supported, and other parts belong to the folklore. The already tested combinations, might not work every single time, depending on the quality of soil in your garden, the number of pests, etc.

A certain plant might repel some pests but might even attract others. Nevertheless, companion planting is a very old and tested practice, and even if it doesn’t go 100 % to plan, you have nothing to lose if you try it.

Incompatibility of certain plants

Some crops are not particularly fond of each other. While many plants grow and prosper together, some plants can even be harmful to each other. For this reason, we will also provide you with a list of “incompatible combinations”.

Different plant needs

Despite being good companions, different plants might require diverse growing temperatures, pH, the amount of sunlight, nutrients and more. When you are not completely sure of the plant’s compatibility, or you are dealing with weak plants that might not survive to pair, take all these factors into consideration

1.3 Should I have Different Sections with Borders?

When you are companion planting, you won’t need any borders. On the other hand, if you are trying to separate the unwanted neighbors, you can separate them with plants and borders, and keep them away from each other. The whole point of companion planting is to plant together those plants, that can benefit each other.

1.4 Which Vegetables Grow Better on Their Own?

Luckily, most of the vegetables, pair with someone. As most of the veggies have good and bad neighbors, the ones that should be left alone, are very rare. But some plants are better on their own, including walnut (very acidic) and fennel (doesn’t like any neighbors). There are of course bad neighbors for some veggies, that we will discuss later.

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1.5 Do Some Plants Grow Better in Raised Beds Together?

Growing veggies in raised beds will give you better control over growing, as you avoid rocks and clay. You can combine radishes with carrots in your raised beds. Planting a combination of spinach, kale, and lettuce it’s another good option. Potatoes will grow best in raised beds and can be combined with spinach, borage, and parsley

1.6 Will I Still Need to Rotate my Crops?

You will still have to rotate your crops. Now you will have to find combinations that you can rotate together. 

Beans and peas will improve your soil with nitrogen, so they are always good when it comes to crop rotation. Companion planting might improve the quality of your soil, which can reduce the time you will have to rotate your crops.

When you group together plants, they are companions because they don’t compete too much, therefore the soil will not be depleted as quickly as an unorganized yard. Once you have arranged the companions, you can then rotate the groups together – keeping companions. 

 

crop rotation e1567283734833

2.0 Soil Types

There are roughly 5 different soil types, and these include; clay, sandy, silty, peaty and saline.

Clay soil

Clay type of soil can storage water well. Its particles are small and compressed together, that’s why it is not very airy. It doesn’t provide fast drainage and it holds the nutrients for longer. It requires more time to warm up in the spring. When clay soil gets harder and drier, it can be very difficult to work with.

Sandy soil

Sandy soil consists of larger particles, and it’s very bad withholding water. The nutrients and the water do not get retained for long, and it’s hard for plants to use them. It does get warm fast in the spring, and it’s easier to work with.

Silt soil

Silty soil is somewhat similar to the touch of sandy soil, but the size of particles is smaller. Silty soil lets marks on your skin when wet. Its water retaining properties are better than the sandy ones. The soil does not retain too many nutrients, making it less fertile. Its drainage properties are not too good, and it’s not very airy either. If you apply pressure (stomping), it can become compact and hard to work with.

Peat soil

Peaty soil is dark in color, soft to the touch and rich with organic matter. It was slowly formed for hundreds or thousands of years, after the period of melting glaciers. It has good water-retaining properties. Peat soil is used to regulate the soil pH, as it holds acidic water.

Saline soil

Saline soil, like the name implies, contains high amounts of soluble salts. It can damage the growth of plants, and delay or prevent germination. It’s fairly easy to see if your soil is saline, as you will notice a white layer on the surface. If you have plants, they are probably barely growing and not many of them germinated.

The perfect soil – loamy

Loamy soil consists of silt, clay, and sand with additional humus. The pH is higher and it contains more calcium. Loamy soil is darker, soft and crumbly. It has good drainage properties, holds nutrients and it’s airy.

2.1 Testing Soil pH Level

When testing the pH level of the soil, you can decide to hire a lab. They will take samples of your soil and also measure other parameters such as;

  • The pH of the soil
  • Levels of calcium, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, and phosphorus
  • Organic content
  • Soil texture
  • Levels of nitrogen and possibly more

You can always do it yourself if you only require the pH of the soil.

Buy a pH test

The pH test strips are the easiest way to measure your soil’s pH. You can simply order them online or get them in specialized gardening stores.

Prepare the soil

Mix a cup of soil with distilled water (room temperature). Place the soil into a bowl and add distilled water, mix until you get a thicker but still liquid consistency.

Instructions

Follow the instructions on your pH test and measure the pH with the strips. Usually, you will need to dip the pH strips inside the mixture for half a minute.

The Result

Compare your result of the pH strip to the test’s key. Often the pH will be marked with different colors. That’s it, you’ve measured your soil’s pH level.

ph scale e1567283673376

2.2 Changing Soil pH Level

Less acidic

If your soil has a pH below 7 (acidic), you can add a cup of quick lime or dolomite. Mix it with the soil well and retest your soil. This can gradually help you to change your soil pH. You can repeat the treatment if needed. You can also use smaller amounts of wood ash. If you are not completely sure, that you are doing everything right, you can always ask a gardening professional.

Less alkaline

If your soil pH is above 7 (alkaline), you can add few cups of peat moss, pine needles or dry tree leaves. An additional option is adding sulfur. Retest the soil and repeat until you get the levels you want.

Target specific areas

Different plants might require different pH, so you can change the pH on different parts of your soil, according to their needs.

3.0 What Should I Group Together? + Example Companion Groups

 

Asparagus Companion Plants

pH 6.5-7.5

Asparagus grows better surrounded by nasturtiums, marigolds, parsley, and basil. 

You could say, that asparagus doesn’t have any particular problem with other crops, as long as the soil is well-drained (but moist), rich in nutrients and there is enough light. 

It might not be too happy, close to garlic and onion, as they need similar nutrients to thrive, and might “steal” from each other.

 

companion plants chart e1567283551365

Beans Companion Plants 

pH 6-7

Beans will work well with corn and squash (as mentioned before), and also with; potatoes, cucumbers, soybeans and celery. Beans and peas enrich the soil with nitrogen. Separate them from onion and garlic.

Broccoli Companion Plants 

pH 5.5-7

If you plant onions close to your broccoli, you might improve its flavor. Broccoli will do fine next to onions, potatoes, cabbage, and beets.

Cabbage Companion Plants 

pH 5.6-6.6

Cabbage will do well, with tomatoes, kale, spinach, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts. Tomatoes will help to repel the caterpillars, which attack cabbage heads.

Carrots Companion Plants 

pH 5-6

Carrots don’t thrive in strong sun, so tomatoes can help them providing some shade. Tomatoes and carrots help each other, as tomatoes can repel some pests that attack carrots, and the carrots can improve the soil quality for tomatoes. As you can see, onions, carrots, and tomatoes all make good neighbors for each other.

Other carrot friends include; leek, sage, rosemary, dill, and chives.

Corn Companion Plants 

pH 6-7

As mentioned before, corn is very friendly with beans and squash, having a nickname of “three sisters”. While corn gives support to the beans, they will enrich the soil with nitrogen, helping corn and other neighbors to thrive. This will make the corn grow bigger and tastier! The third “sister”, Mrs squash, will prevent the growth of weeds, due to its big leaves, helping the beans and corn to grow.

Corn also provides support for cucumbers, peas, melons, and squash.

Cucumber Companion Plants 

pH 5-6

Marigolds and nasturtiums will repel pests off your cucumbers when planted near. Beans and peas will enrich the soil with nitrogen, helping the cucumbers to thrive.

Good neighbors for the cucumber are; peas, beans, corn, lettuce, and celery. 

Kale Companion Plants 

pH 5.5-6.8

Kale is fairly undemanding and can grow with everything, except with tomatoes. Actually, there are some reports that in some cases can even grow well with tomatoes. 

Some examples are; hyssop, marigolds and nasturtium, Artichokes, beets, celery, cucumber, lettuce, and onion.

Lettuce Companion Plants 

pH 6.5-7

Lettuce will happily grow almost next to everything. So we will list the “bad” neighbor list for lettuce, as it’s much shorter. Lettuce will grow with almost everything, however, there are some unfavorable combinations with broccoli, Brussel sprouts, parsley, potatoes, and lavender. 

Companion examples are; beets, carrots, parsnips, strawberries, radishes, onions, asparagus, and corn.

Marigold Companion Plants 

pH 6-7.5

Marigolds will attract bees and help them to thrive. They will protect your tomatoes by repelling nematodes, slugs, worms, and other pests. They are low maintenance and they add appeal to your yard or garden.

Companion examples are; cucumbers, melons, eggplants, squash, potatoes, lettuce, pumpkins and tomatoes.

Nasturtium Companion Plants 

pH 6.1-7.8

Nasturtiums are very easy going and will grow in many different gardens. They are somewhat drought-tolerant and they even thrive in poor soil and help to improve it. They are edible and you can also feed them to your chickens if you have a farm. They also attract bees and other pollinators. Nasturtiums are one of the best companion plants, as they repel pests from your veggies. After the blooming seasons, when the flowers are dry, you can collect their pea-sized seeds and replant them next year. Some good companion examples are; broccoli, Brussel sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, kale, pumpkins, and squash.

Onion Companion Plants 

pH 6.2-6.8

Onions and carrots help each other repel pests. Onions might repel the carrot fly, and carrots can help repel the onion fly. Onions might also help to minimize aphids, on neighboring plants. Other onion friends include; cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, beets, rosemary, and marjoram.

Peppers Companion Plants 

pH 6-8

Basil is a good companion for peppers, repelling flies, mosquitoes, mites, aphids and more. It’s believed that basil improves the flavor of peppers and tomatoes. Other good companions for peppers include; tomatoes, spinach, and onions. Peppers, tomatoes, and basil can definitely make a good trio.

Potato Companion Plants 

pH 5.8-6.5

Potatoes grow well with beans, corn, parsley, and spinach.

Radish Companion Plants

pH 6-7

Radishes are very good for your health and for your garden. It’s super easy to grow them, and they grow well with many plants. You can plant them amongst carrots or cucumbers. When planted with cucumbers, they will protect the cucumbers from pests, when paired with carrots, they will mature faster, improving the soil for the carrots. Radishes will also attract pests, that would otherwise attack spinach. The “leaf miners” will move, and nibble on radish leaves, leaving the underground part intact. Radishes are paired well with; beets, cabbage, spinach, kale, eggplants, peas, and lettuce.

Rosemary Companion Plants 

pH 6-8.5

Rosemary will help many plants, by repelling cabbage moths, beetles, and carrot flies. Especially sage, beans, carrots, broccoli, and cabbage can benefit from rosemary.

Sage Companion Plants 

pH 5.6-7.8

Sage will attract butterflies and bees, it’s easy to grow and is drought tolerant. It’s beneficial for your health and makes a good companion for rosemary, radishes, and carrots. Don’t plant sage close to cucumbers.

Spinach Companion Plants 

pH 5-7

Spinach made more friends than enemies. Spinach can grow with almost everything, just like lettuce. The plants that should not be paired with spinach are; beet, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and swiss chard.

Strawberry Companion Plants

pH 6-7

Strawberries are not too complicated, as they can grow with almost everything. The only three plants you should keep away, are cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Some examples of companions are; horseradish, rhubarb, lettuce, marigolds, onions, chives, sage, and spinach.

Tomato Companion Plants

pH 5.5-7

Basil and tomatoes work together, on your pizza and pasta, but they also work together in your garden. Basil can increase the tomato yields and repels mosquitoes, flies and other pests. It might also improve its flavor. Other good tomato neighbors include; peppers, asparagus, carrots, onions, parsley, spinach, and celery.

3.1 The Bad Companions & Why

Potatoes and cucumbers compete for water and nutrients, and should not be planted together. You should avoid planting additional vining crops next to your cucumbers, as they will compete for space and nutrients. Sage somehow attracts pests to the cucumber and shouldn’t be nearby.

Corn and Tomatoes

Corn and tomatoes are not good together, as they both get attacked by the corn earworm. Potatoes, tomatoes, and squash should be separated because they all get affected by the same type of blight and they might all get sick together.

Dill and Coriander

Dill and coriander both release substances that can be harmful to carrots, so avoid planting them nearby. Carrots and parsnips both get attacked by carrot flies and other diseases, so they should be planted apart from each other.

Bean and Peppers

Beans should not be grown next to peppers, to avoid the vines spreading on the peppers.

Onions and Peas/Beans

Onion and garlic might inhibit the growth of peas and beans, so they should be apart.

Peppers and Fennel

Peppers and fennel will compete for nutrients and space, not to mention they require different conditions. Fennel, in general, is not a good neighbor, as it doesn’t get along with almost anybody and should be planted away from other plants.

Beets and Beans

Beets should be kept away from beans, as it will restrict their growth.

Turnips and Potatoes

Don’t mix turnips with potatoes, as potatoes will inhibit their growth.

3.2 Conclusion

There are many things about companion planting that make it worthwhile. You will be saving space, improving your soil, repelling pests and helping your garden to thrive. Including beautiful and useful flowers and herbs is a plus, to increase the appeal of your garden or yard and repel pests at the same time.

Companion Planting is Beneficial 

The advantages of grouping, outweigh any potential disadvantages, which don’t really pose a threat to your garden.

We hope we gave you lots of useful information about properly pairing and grouping your crops, to help you form your garden the best you can.  Enjoy making your garden happy with companions.