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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Companion planting, composting keep aphids at bay

Rosemary Small’s unconventional lower South Hill garden is a haven for pollinators and beneficial insects that, along with intercropping and companion planting, have resulted in an aphid-free garden despite this year’s aphid-friendly weather.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
Rosemary Small’s unconventional lower South Hill garden is a haven for pollinators and beneficial insects that, along with intercropping and companion planting, have resulted in an aphid-free garden despite this year’s aphid-friendly weather. (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

My recent article on aphids caught the attention of Rosemary Small. She shared that despite the prime conditions for aphids, she had none in her lower South Hill garden. Zero. Nada.

I have known Rosemary and her husband Phil for many years and know their unique style of gardening. If Rosemary had no aphids, there had to be a much-trialed method to their madness. Time for a garden visit.

The Smalls’ garden encompasses most of the front and back yards of their average-sized lot. Their two-story old house plays games with the daily sunlight, as do several mature trees on theirs and neighbors’ lots.

As a result, they garden in raised beds, large barrels and grow bags. Phil, a soil scientist by profession and a permaculturist, and Rosemary, with a strong interest in organic gardening, have adopted a garden method that mixes many plants together in the beds.

Their techniques developed over 40 years of gardening together draw on the tradition of companion planting where certain plants are grown close together, so they draw benefits from each other.

Tomatoes are underplanted with basil, broccoli, kale and other cole crops are planted in patches instead of a single bed for each. Nitrogen-fixing legumes like peas and bean share space with plants that require higher nitrogen levels.

The Smalls believe much of their success comes from the rich compost they have created from the neighborhood abundance of fall leaves and other organic matter. The rich, friable mixture provides most of the needed nutrients and holds moisture well even in the heat.

The other part of their success, especially with aphid control, is companion planting their kale and broccoli with chamomile, a pretty herb with a small white and yellow flower. Rosemary had given up growing broccoli because of aphid problems but found the combination resulted in aphid-free plants. Since 2020, they have had no issues with spring aphids. Their plan for 2023 is to scatter chamomile throughout the garden.

One other reason this method works so well is that by not clumping all the cole crops into one space, the aphids have to hunt for their food plants and their populations can’t grow fast.

Another trick Rosemary uses is to winter sow her cold season cole crops and chamomile intermixed in 2-liter containers out in the garden. The hardy seeds germinate when the temperatures are right and by early April, they are ready to plant into the open garden crops. The bottles are cut in half, the bottom half filled with compost and then duct taped back together. The plants are already adapted to the garden temperatures so they take off quickly and are harvestable in early June.

Tip of the week: Now is a good time to fertilize vegetable crops. The weather is warming up and with it, growth. The cool weather has set our harvest back two to three weeks so they need all the help they can get.

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