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52 Weeks Fresh: Plants Need Friends Too

Tomatoes like company in the garden, so keep things easy and organized by clustering the stalks with basil and any other ingredients you’ll need for salsa or tomato sauce. Not only will this save space, it will also discourage pests. 

Borage — a scrumptious and underappreciated green leaf that tastes like cucumber and has pretty, edible flowers (pictured above) — can repel tomato worms as well as improve tomato flavor. Onions grow down as the other plants grow up, leaving less competition for light; as a bonus, many pests dislike them. The same goes for oregano, too. Basil is an overall flavor-improver and mosquitoes hate it. (Pro tip: Plant some basil right by your front door to easily have on hand for garnishes. It will keep mosquitos at bay and impress your guests.)

To maximize your garden row, shape it like Mayan architecture to fit the most plants, keeping it flat on top and angled on the sides.

Start with tomatoes down the middle in a zig-zag, then intersperse them with basil plants. Place onions in a line along the edge with borage at the beginning and end of the row with cilantro along the lower angle. Oregano can grow around the onions. Some lettuce for a side salad is nice. And it doesn’t hurt to have a jalapeno pepper plant or two mixed in.

Come harvest time in a few months, you’ll have one-stop shopping for your pizza sauce, salsa or gazpacho, all in a row.

 

PRODUCE REPORT: With tomatoes and basil in the ground this week, plant a new row of lettuce while the weather is still cool. It’ll come in handy for salad.

EAT WITH THE SEASON: Young kale is gorgeous right now. Blanch it quickly, and then cool it in a salty ice water bath (salt pulls the heat out of the kale). Drain and dry. Chop the kale and mix it with some nuts and early lettuces for a salad that is satisfying as well as beautiful.

Self-taught gardener Michael Blakeney enjoys his Bedford, N.Y., garden all year: working in it, watching it grow and eating it through every season.  A visual artist and arts educator, Mike has been gardening for 25 years. You can find him at mikegrowgarden.com.

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Comments (23)

  1. David posted 05/30/2014

    I never would have thought that it mattered that much what grows next to what. It makes total sense to me now that some plants might be good for keeping bugs away from the whole grouping. I am kind of curious to see this set of plants when they are bigger. Do you harvest them all around the same time?

    • Mike posted 06/03/2014

      Yes, all can be harvested at the same time! The basil can be harvested earlier, too. The borage flowers and young leaves are nice summer salad additions.

  2. Chris Durso posted 05/30/2014

    Michael…awesome work!!!

  3. Kathy posted 05/31/2014

    Who knew tomatoes liked company? I guess they are like people! I love the idea of planting things you eat together in the ground together.

  4. Casey posted 05/31/2014

    I love the concept of planting other plants to help keep pests away! Great idea!

  5. Russell posted 05/31/2014

    The concept of co-location makes total sense but I never would have thought of it. Maximizing the space…I.e. Tomatoes up, onions down, is especially helpful for urban rooftop gardens. Same with the Mayan shape, however at night the garden may be mistaken for a cemetery! Finally, a shared bed (I'm talking about in the garden) has a marketing angle….just as some wine makers tout certain wines are made from grapes from a single vineyard/hillside, etc. (and charge a higher price for it), you can bottle tomato sauce with ingredients grown in the same garden bed and label it as such…tastes great, sounds impressive and can be sold at a premium price at your local farmer's market!

  6. Samantha posted 05/31/2014

    AWESOME!!! I didnt know that your plants should be up higher thats pretty cool.

  7. Sharon Popikas posted 05/31/2014

    Never thought of planting basil in between tomato plants. Isn't the basil totally blocked from getting the sun once the tomato plants get larger?

    • Mike posted 06/03/2014

      This is a great question. I do prune my tomatoes a bit; some stray leaves and stems removed to help increase yield as well as air flow. Dappled light on the basil helps slow the rapid growth that can come during the dog days of August. Plus, the basil leaves hold onto the bright green color longer.

  8. Tammy posted 05/31/2014

    Rabbits dislike anything from the onion family. You can surround cabbage, broccoli and other cole crops with them. By the time the green onions are ready to pick, the plants are old enough that the rabbits don't want them anymore. I used to plant the onions as a border but our neighbors cat kept digging up the onions, leaving the plants unprotected. Surrounding them works better. Also, there is a fantastic book about companion planting called – Carrots Love Tomatoes. It's full of great ideas!

  9. Flora posted 05/31/2014

    with all these fine tips, thought I would add mine.. Take a potato with eyes . cut a hole through the middle and put a tomato plant in the middle . .. Mound the dirt around the potato. Tomato will grow up and potatoes will grow down and spread out.

  10. NY Rangers Fan posted 05/31/2014

    I like the idea of plants being team players – they all work together for a winning season of good food! LETS GO VEGGIES!

  11. Elyse posted 06/01/2014

    Gorgeous work. It's so important to keep pests away without chemicals.

  12. katieatthetable posted 06/01/2014

    Cooling blanched kale in iced salt water – genius tip!

  13. Modelhands13 posted 06/01/2014

    So fun to read! Definitely love the idea of planting with the final recipe in mind for gazpacho, etc! And basil by the door! Nice!

  14. Bonnie posted 06/02/2014

    In the past I have left a lot of room between my tomatoes, this year I am putting them closer together as you suggested. I prune them as they grow leaving 3 main stems. I also remove the lower leaves all of which allow the energy of the plant to go into the tomatoes.

  15. Liana posted 06/02/2014

    Thanks for the great tips Michael!

  16. Matt from LI posted 06/02/2014

    I definitely need these tips. my tomatoes (and garden) were a disaster last year.

  17. Jenny posted 06/02/2014

    Amazing post that quickly and easily solved yet another one of my exact problems at the moment! Thank you, Michael!!! <3

  18. Deanna posted 06/02/2014

    I completely forgot about having a small garden on your patio with basil and other herbs by the door! I had no idea that basil is a natural mosquito deterrent!

  19. Fig posted 06/03/2014

    I love the simple yet insightful idea of growing Basil by the door to keep away the mosquitos and to easily pinch some off for flavor. Brilliant.

  20. Cat posted 06/05/2014

    I didn't know that about basil & mosquitoes either – also putting it by the front door solves the problem of cooking in your socks and using that as an excuse to not walk out to the garden to get the Basil! Cool! Great blog.

  21. Brian David Sisco posted 06/19/2014

    I love the smell of basil and if I can grow it near my front door that would be awesome. The leaves and color are really lush and I guess I could nip off the top to keep them bushy. Pesto is one of my favorite things, especially when you use sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts.

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