Beneficial plants are such an important part of growing food. These plants can act as beneficial, sacrificial and medicinal plants. Some are planted to attract good insects that will eat the bad; some are host plants for insects that you don’t want on your veg and some have a sticky effect that will trap insects.
I tend to plant most of my beneficial plants in borders and beds away from my space to grow vegetables, unless they are a direct companion. It is a good time now to think about this, as a lot of them you can establish well over autumn/ winter, ready for the following season.
Today we will take a look at the first three on my list. These are not in any particular order, but rather than bombard you with hundreds, I feel it is better to concentrate on a few at a time.
- Phacellia, which is also known as purple tansy, is a beautiful plant that has a long flowering season and also self-seeds. The purple flowers are rich in nectar for the bees. It grows quite tall, so is good to plant at the back of a bed or in an area where it can self-sow by itself. It takes 80 days to reach flowering, it can also be grown as a green manure crop. Some people look at this plant as an annual, but I prefer to call it a perennial as, if left to mature, will regrow from its own seeds. Also, when chopped after its cycle is complete, Phacellia is a great source of carbon which can be dug into the soil. It is an attractant for aphids and also the bees flock to it. When planted close together, say 20 cm, it acts as a weed suppressant. Kale, cabbage and broccoli love growing in a close vicinity to this plant. To sow, I just scatter my seeds and hope for the best, but it can easily be direct sown it to soil that has regular water until germination.
- Borage can be hard to get started, but once you have it, this wonderful plant will keep reproducing from seeds. If you buy a borage plant, my advice is to make sure it is quite young and small, as these have a long tap root that suffers when transplanting. To germinate the seeds they will benefit from soaking in water overnight, as they are tough hard seeds. The flowers are edible and look great in a salad, or set in ice cubes to beautify your drinks. It is said to deter white cabbage butterfly when planted close to a brassica bed. Bees absolutely love this plant and, when in full flower, you will literally hear the plant humming away, as there will be so many bees drinking its juicy nectar. Strawberries and borage are the best of friends and really thrive in each other’s company. The leaves and the stem also contain calcium and potassium, which will benefit the soil if dug in. Some people have even used the young leaves in soups, likening it to a cucumber flavour, and it can be made into a tonic because it is known to purify the blood. Borage not only attracts bees but beneficial wasps, which will in turn deal with caterpillars.
- Carrots and Leeks are the best of friends. These two vegetables thrive when planted close to each other. Carrots can often be attacked by carrot fly and leeks can be attacked by onion fly and leek moth. When planted together they repel each other’s attacker – it’s so incredible how mother nature offers such harmony. Additionally, planting sage and chives near carrots will keep the carrot fly away. When planting companions together, they enhance the other plants’ growth and keep them healthy at the same time.
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Tune in to next week’s blog where the beneficial plants continue…!