Do you ever feel frustrated when pest insects damage your plants? Wish your kitchen garden was more productive? You’re not alone! Even the healthiest gardens struggle with a few ‘unwelcome visitors’ at times.
If you have limited space for your food garden, then losing precious crops, can be even more disheartening.
The good news is there are design strategies you can use to:
- Maximise your space;
- Minimise pest insects;
- Enhance the beauty; and
- Even improve some of your harvests.
Design Tips for a Productive Kitchen Garden
Avoid this Common Design Mistake
Are you growing your kitchen garden organically? Are you building a healthy living soil? Then you are on the right track! However, some kitchen gardeners fall into the trap of making a very common mistake.
Do you plant the SAME vegetables in neat rows? No doubt this looks attractive! However, it can also signal the ‘green light’ to pest insects. How? Many pest insects find their favourite foods by sight and smell. Numerous flying insects identify their preferred food by the shape and scent of the plant leaves.
This can be an irresistible invitation for pest insects to make a beeline to your garden. A ‘Fly Thru’ self-serve restaurant with a big “WELCOME” sign! If you want less pests, then stop planting the same vegetables in rows!
However, as urban backyard gardeners, we want a continual small harvest week after week. We want a variety of foods.
“Designing for small, continual harvests makes sense for home gardeners.” – Anne Gibson
Food for Thought
If you’ve walked in the rainforest or bush, stop and think about this. Have you ever seen neat ROWS of one species growing naturally?
“Nature’s wisdom gives us a clue to plant survival in your garden.” – Anne Gibson
So what design techniques can YOU use to avoid making this mistake?
Interplanting and Plant Associations
Plant diversity is a key to survival in nature. A wide variety of species that support each other. By imitating nature’s patterns, you can confuse pest insects that are looking for a free feed at your place. This is a simple organic strategy you can use to your advantage.
A design technique that applies this pattern is Interplanting (or intercropping). The idea is to grow two or more different, but complementary, vegetables together. In the same pot or garden bed.
Diverse plant associations provide a range of benefits in an organic kitchen garden. Diversity plays a beneficial role in integrated pest management strategies.
So how do these plant associations or relationships work?
Most plants release defensive chemicals. These are nature’s inbuilt mechanism to help them survive pest and disease attack. Plant ‘chemical warfare’ of sorts! These chemicals are released via the soil, microbes and leaves. Pretty cool hey?
So how can YOU use interplanting and plant associations for less pests?
5 Design Strategies to Reduce Pests & Improve Production
1. Mutually Beneficial Relationships
Design your kitchen garden so plants have a mutually beneficial relationship with other species nearby.
According to Penny Woodward, author of one of my favourite books ‘Pest-Repellent Plants’, a good example is Catmint (a member of the mint family):
“Nepetalactone is the active chemical found in catmint and some other plants in this family. It repels some insects and, interestingly, is also a constituent of one of the pheromones, given off by aphids, which attracts parasitic braconid wasps.”
2. Design to take advantage of natural growth habits
A tall growing vegetable like corn, provides shade and stems for neighbouring climbing beans. Low growing pumpkins/squash have a large spreading canopy of leaves. These cool and shade the soil.
A guild is a group of plants that support each other, while growing near each other. This is an example of working with nature to interplant species with mutually beneficial growth habits. One example of three plants that help each other as they grow are beans, corn and pumpkin or squash.
You plant corn before sowing climbing bean seeds at the base of each stem. The corn stalks become tall, strong ‘stakes’ or living trellises for the beans to wind up. This saves you money and space. The pumpkin/squash are planted after the beans. This gives them time to start climbing. This planting design maximises horizontal AND vertical space.
- BEANS have bacteria around their roots that turn nitrogen from the air into a plant-available form in the soil. This free food benefits all three plants.
- PUMPKINS/SQUASH shade the soil, minimising moisture loss and weed growth which again, helps all three.
- CORN shares sugars to help feed the nitrogen-fixing bacteria on the bean roots. Corn also provides support for beans to grow vertically.
- For the space used, you can grow more food than you could if you planted each vegetable individually. So it’s a highly productive technique.
- Look at all the beneficial connections between just these three plants. Add more into the mix and you start to see how interplanting can create a healthier, more productive space.
You just have to play ‘Matchmaker’ with plants. You’ll soon see all sorts of flourishing relationships in your kitchen garden!
Affiliate Links: Your support of this site is appreciated!
3. Select plants to perform beneficial roles
Choose plants that share nutrients, improve the growth of other plants, attract beneficial predator insects and reduce pest attack. Legumes, like beans and peas, add valuable nitrogen to your soil via their roots. This free mineral deposit helps improve the soil for your next crop. Plan to take advantage of this. How? By planting a nitrogen-loving food crop from a different plant family, like tomatoes, next.
4. Interplant your kitchen garden with herbs
Herbs help provide a degree of insect protection. Many strong-smelling herbs help repel or confuse insects that damage food crops. Well chosen companion plants can also help deter and confuse pest insects. How? By the scent and shape of their foliage.
5. Plant flowers and scented herbs
Flowers help to attract beneficial predatory and pollinating insects. e.g. Dill, coriander/cilantro, sunflowers and parsley. These herbs all have small flowers that are a magnet for predatory wasps and other beneficial insects. They attract nature’s ‘Clean Up Crew’ for many pest insects in your kitchen garden.
“Herbs and flowers are valuable additions to any kitchen garden.” – Anne Gibson
From my personal experiences, thoughtful plant associations can:
- Save you work;
- Minimise plants lost to pests and disease;
- Increase habitat and food sources for beneficial insects and birds;
- Build a more diverse ecosystem;
- Save money spent on pest management solutions; and
- Help improve yields with better pollinated crops.
I hope these design tips give you some options to play around with in your kitchen garden. You’ll have less pests and a more productive, beautiful space. If you need help with designing your own sustainable garden, I offer a range of consulting services to get you started with confidence.
Like this article?
Please share and encourage your friends to join my free Newsletter for exclusive insights, tips and all future articles.
© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2017. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
Some links within this article are affiliate links. I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. If you purchase a product via an affiliate link, I will earn a small commission. There is no additional cost to you. It’s a way you can support my site, so it’s a win-win for both of us. You directly support my ability to continue bringing you original, inspiring and educational content to help benefit your health. Thanks! Please read my Disclosure Statement for more details.
[…] and plants are grown in neat rows or […]
[…] Interplant with a variety of flowering edibles and perennials. You can create biodiversity even in a tiny space in pots. The greater plant species diversity, the more abundant predatory beneficial insect populations will be. The more habitat your garden provides for other creatures in the food web, the fewer pest insect problems you will have. […]
[…] my Kitchen Garden. You may have a different climate and growing season, but the principles for a productive garden are basically the same wherever you live. I hope these tips will help boost your […]
[…] Design Tips for a Productive Kitchen Garden […]
[…] How much room do you have to grow food? If you have a balcony, courtyard or limited options for gardening around your home, you can STILL grow some edibles if you choose your plants and design your space carefully. […]
[…] Queensland for local gardeners in my climate. Planning is just as much fun as planting so think about your design to optimise space. You can also grow microgreens as mini indoor gardens like these gorgeous colourful baby leaf […]
Love this article!
Great tips. Prompted me to race out to my garden shed and see what I might have in seed packets there and found a treasure trove! Immediately planted multiple seeds from a mixed packet of plants that attract the right insects and added some zucchini to our vege patch too.
Love your site, just discovered it this weekend and will be coming back time and again.
Thanks for the feedback Kathie and welcome! Great to hear you’ve jumped into action and been inspired. If you haven’t already, I invite you to join my free newsletter and grab yourself a complimentary copy of my herb eBook. That way, you’ll get lots more tips I only share with subscribers. Happy gardening, Anne
Help the hairy caterpillars are eating my lettuce and kale
Check out these posts for help:
Coping with Caterpillars – Part 1
Coping with Caterpillars – Part 2.
The quickest organic solution is to get out there and hand pick them off. Look under the leaves for eggs and tiny caterpillars. Small holes = small caterpillars. They will do minimum damage when little but will quickly munch your lunch as they grow.
Lots of ideas to try. I may try the lillypilly as a first option – will let you know how it goes.
Great to hear Nyssa. Keep us posted!
So excited to find your website, as I have a small courtyard (in Brisbane) that I keep trying to grow herbs & veges in!!
Do you have any issues with possums eating your plants, and any advice on stopping them?
I have been using upside down wire rubbish bins but am looking for a more attractive option…
As an ex-Brizzie girl, I also experienced possums pinching my produce, so I understand your dilemma! They used to run along the fence at night and jump down into my herb garden – eat their fill – and jump back on the fence and up into the gum tree next door. I decided to stop them in their tracks & give them an alternative food source BEFORE they got to my herbs. I put up a small fruit bowl on the top of the fence so they ate their fill before going any further. Worked in my Brisbane garden. My sister has had a nightmare with possums so we’ve tried lots of things. The best solution for her was a sensor night light positioned where they came onto her property from the neighbour’s to eat her hanging basket plants. They prefer to eat in the dark so this startled them and has been somewhat successful.
Possums are opportunists who are looking for a free, easy feed. They love native fruits like lillypillies and quandongs & new gum leaves so if you have space for a pot with a lillypilly or other native food plant, this may provide a longer term preferred alternative to your garden produce. i.e. give them their first preference and they’ll be more likely to leave your vegie patch alone! In suburbia, unfortunately there is a lack of native habitat and fruit so possums and other wild ‘pest’ animals resort to eating what is available.
There are other options for stopping them – it’s a matter of trial and error. What works for some, doesn’t for others! It depends on your time, budget and space.
An ideal option is exclusion (currently what I’m using and I’ve had no further damage) – if they can’t reach it, they can’t eat it. Greenharvest are a local QLD company that have a variety of practical exclusion products you may want to consider. You can protect your whole garden or just parts of it. Or make your own wire cage. My mum had a portable wire frame around her townhouse vegie patch in Sydney and this was the only way she could harvest 100% of her greens. The sun & rain can still get in but possums can’t.
Another solution is to make a deterrent spray on the affected plants to make them less palatable. This is a recipe for Possum Repellent. Garlic spray works on smell & taste: Add 2 tablespoons freshly crushed garlic to 1 litre of hot water (+ add 2 tablespoons freshly crushed HOT chilli or tabasco sauce). Allow to stand overnight. Strain. Spray on foliage. Remember sprays are best used in the cool of the day to avoid burning your plants and will only last a few days. No good if it’s raining. Always use gloves & protective glasses; label & keep away from children as a safety precaution.
There are many other options including deterrent products like the Pestgard Yard Sentinel. There are some other ideas and comments here.
Some people have success with quassia chips. 300 grams of Quassia Chips (often available from agricultural stores) to 1 litre of water. Boil chips for 5 minutes. Strain and collect water mixture. Spray on ground when cool. I’ve never used this but apparently works for some people.
Hope this gives you some ideas – please come back and let us know what works! Good luck.
Hi Anne, I have a big problem with bugs eating my broccoli . I’ve tried chilli spray, to no avail. Also tried flour on the leaves which seemed to help. I only have about four plants and there’s still something eating them . I have coriander plants around them – which doesn’t seem to have made any difference. Do you have any suggestions?
When you say “bugs” it would help if you could be a bit more specific. Do you mean caterpillars? The most common pest for broccoli is the Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillar. I’ve posted a couple of articles on identifying them and organic strategies. These articles may assist you and be a good starting point.
Hope this helps. 🙂