Takeaway: Chemicals aren’t needed where mother nature gives you what you need. You just need to take advantage of it. Not all plants need the same things or make the same things or do the same things…but they sure can use this to help each other out!
Are you tired of your crops failing because of bug infestations, lack of nutrients, lack of good bugs, and a climate that just doesn’t agree with what you’re planting? Then you probably haven’t tried companion planting and hydroponics. Hydroponics in itself is a powerful tool, but with companion planting, you’ll never have a failing crop again! Find out how and why below.
What is Companion Planting?
Companion planting is an ingenious agricultural technique where plants help plants. This eliminates the need for pesticides, herbicides, etc. In other words, with companion planting you’re saving time and money.
Specifically, with companion planting, you’re looking for climate co-operation, nurse cropping, trap cropping, symbiotic nitrogen fixation, biochemical pest suppression, and attraction of helpful insects and wildlife.
1: Climate Co-Operation
This refers to when companion plants help each other in terms of climate requirements. Let’s say you have a plant that likes the shade and another that loves full sun. What do you do? Plant them together! The plants that love sun will be taller as they reach for the sun and they’ll block out the sun from crops planted below them.
2: Nurse Cropping
With nurse cropping, you plant annuals with perennials so that the annuals can establish the perennials before they’re fully adult plants. In other words, the annuals help raise the perennials by preparing the land and bringing up nutrients for the growing perennials.
These annuals will strengthen the soil to protect from erosion and pull the nutrients up so that the perennials can access them. Neat, right?!
3: Trap Cropping
This is possibly the coolest part of companion planting. Do you ever get those annoying pests like aphids, for example? They are most likely destroying all your crops. So, with trap cropping, simply re-direct the aphids to an expendable crop.
We were having quite a few issues with aphids eating up our plants. They’d be attracted to one particular crop and by default take over everything else. So, we used trap cropping and got some okra plants and planted them by the plants that they seemed attracted to. They went after the okra and left our good crops alone!
4: Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation
Plants will not survive without nitrogen. But, not the nitrogen you’re probably thinking of. They don’t pull it out of the air; rather, the nitrogen in the ground is fixated by bacteria into a useable form for the plant.
These plants are called legumes with nodules on their roots in which the bacteria is found. So, if you want strong, healthy plants, try planting some legumes around your other crops. They’ll fixate the nitrogen in a usable form for the plants around them.
5: Biochemical Pest Suppression
Who needs pesticides when you have plants that can make their own natural pesticides to protect your plants?! Marigolds, for example, release a toxin called thiopene which repels nematodes. Even cooler, they produce a pheremone that confuses male insects to the point that they won’t mate. These plants discourage pests.
6: Attracting the Good Bugs
Not all bugs are bad! Some are actually really good, like lady bugs. Lady bugs eat a lot of the annoying bugs you’ll get crawling all over your crops that eat holes through them, like aphids. You can actually use certain plants to attract these bugs to your other plants you’re trying to protect. Using the ladybug example, try dill or yarrow. Not to mention the dill and yarrow are super good, as well!
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a super clean and efficient method of growing plants. It uses nutrient-rich water supplied to the roots of your plants to produce strong, clean, healthy crops. By itself you already eliminate many of the issues associated with typical soil planting. For example, these plants are grown in the water, essentially. Bugs aren’t really interested in drowning. They’ll avoid these plants for the most part.
Also, you can’t get rot and mold like you would in the soil. Typically what happens is you overwater a plant in the ground or a planter or wherever you have the plant in the soil and this moist, warm environment is a hotbed for mold and rot.
In the long run, it saves you space and money. You can make impressive vertical setups with hydroponics to save space. Plus, you save money because you don’t need to purchase any of the additives you’d use for soil planting. The only things you need to purchase for hydroponics are nutrients, a pump, and a general setup.
Why would you combine the two?
Want the best possible crops? Combine the two techniques: companion planting and hydroponics. With this you get the best of both worlds. By hydroponic planting, as mentioned earlier, you already rid a lot of the issues associated with soil planting; however, you get all the benefits of companion planting mentioned above.
In other words, you can protect against pests that may go after the leaves of your plants, attract the good bugs, and help the plants find their favorite climates.
Examples of companion planting
Here are a few great examples of companion planting that may work for you. This list is restricted to hydroponically-grown crops.
Beans: Corn, lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, strawberry, celery, carrots, and cauliflower
Lettuce: Cabbage, carrots, and onions
Cabbage: Onions, carrots, and lettuce
Asparagus: Tomatoes, pepper, and basil
Cauliflower: Onions, beans, corn, lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, strawberry, celery, and carrots
Peas: Lettuce, chives, and carrots
Onions: Beans, cauliflower, cabbage, and lettuce
Carrots: Peas, lettuce, and chives
Potatoes: Tomatoes, cucumbers, sunflowers, green beans, peas, and broad beans
Tomatoes: Asparagus, pepper, and basil
DIY- How to start Companion Planting for Better Organic Harvests
To get started, you’ll need an aquaponics set-up. See our set-up in “ Everything You Need To Know About Starting A Basic Hydroponics System.” This is a small design that you can do anywhere, no matter the size of your home. It’s a good way to “wet your feet” before diving into a larger hydroponics setup.
After that, design your companion planting set up. Make a chart. Use a grid, with each square for each hole for ever plant. Label what plants you want to go where. Let’s say your goal is to grow lettuce. Well, start by plotting your lettuce. However, you may want to protect against a nasty infestation of lettuce aphids. They don’t care that you’re growing them in water. They want to eat your lettuce.
What do you do?
Plan for their destruction! Some herbs are really good for this, and herbs LOVE hydroponics. These herbs include chives, coriander, and nasturtium. So, go to your chart and add in spaces for these herbs.
Maybe your concern isn’t lettuce aphids. Maybe you want to attract good bugs. Use this guide along with your chart and plot out your best hydroponic set-up! Don’t forget to share this down below. We’d love to hear about your unique companion planting hydroponic set-up!
Nature gives you all the tools you need to grow happy and healthy crops without the need to use man-made chemicals. Hydroponics in itself is a powerful technique. Combine it with companion planting, and you can’t go wrong! It’s easy, clean, creative, and fun! Give it a shot and let us know how your companion planting hydroponic garden goes!
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Amber Bogdanowicz grew up in Pennsylvania where she attends Bloomsburg as a Molecular Biology student. She has grown up on the farm and planting under alternative methods, doing things the old-fashioned way through organic farming. Her website Biology Thinktank where she write about ecology, agriculture, and sustainability.