Companion planting is a technique gardeners can use to increase their yield, boost soil fertility, and reduce weeds and pests.Companion planting at Tidal Wood Food and Forage in Juneau. (Joel Bos)

Companion planting is a technique gardeners can use to increase their yield, boost soil fertility, and reduce weeds and pests. For this week’s Garden Talk, Joel Bos of Tidal Wood Food and Forage shared his companion planting techniques.


This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Chloe Pleznac: Let’s talk about companion planting. I first learned about this concept when reading the book Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She talks about the “Three Sisters,” which are beans, squash, and corn. Could you give me some examples of companion planting combinations or techniques that you’ve utilized?

Russian kale planted on either side of zucchini plants. (Joel Bos)

Joel Bos: I use zucchini very often in my gardens, and I make mini hoop houses about three and four feet tall to shield them from some of the rain in the colder weather that we have here in Juneau. I like to grow them with brassica family plants or fast-growing plants like lettuce. And then, because the zucchini will just fill in a whole four-foot-wide bed, each planet, you can plant faster-growing plants on the outside and still be able to crop those before the zucchini spreads in and takes over. So for the home gardener, it’s a great way to utilize a small space and get maximum yield. 

The techniques I use to warm up the squash — because squash and zucchini really like warm weather — is to keep the soil dry, which is done in a number of ways. One, you could make a raised bed. I’ll cover it with a green plastic mulch or another name for it is IRT. It’s just a plastic film that allows a lot of warmth through the sun but reflects the wavelengths that weeds need to grow.

This can do two things for you — slow down the weeds and warm your soil and keep it drier. Over top of that, I’ll make it a hoop house, sometimes out of bent metal conduit or sometimes out of PVC pipes, and then over top of that add what we call row cover, which is kind of like a white fleece, over the top of that.

That’ll do two things. One, it’ll warm it a little bit. It’ll shed some of the rain off but allow some through, and it also keeps the insects from coming into your brassica family plants, like your cabbage and your kale. Then maybe later on in June or July, I’ll take the cover off and crop all the brassica family plants and let the squash really fill in.

A hoop house covered up to keep out root maggots flies from laying eggs in the brassica family plants like kale, cabbage kohlrabi and bok choy. (Joel Bos)

Chloe Pleznac: When you’re sowing these starts, how close are you planting them together? Is there a general rule of thumb that you use?

Kohlrabi (lower left) planted alongside zucchini and Russian kale. (Joel Bos)

Joel Bos: On my farm some of the stuff I do is in 30-inch-wide beds because there’s a lot of good tools that work at that width. But when I’m making these hoop houses and growing zucchini, I prefer a four-foot-wide bed. You can do one zucchini every three feet along that right down the middle, and then you can do a row on each side of it, about 12 inches apart, sometimes eight, depending on what plant you’re planting. Some of the lettuces can get closer. Certain kinds of bok choy can grow closer together, too. If you’re trying to do a fast-growing cabbage you may want to give them a foot.

If you’re doing a big red Russian kale, you may want to give those every 18 inches. It gives you a decent crop. I’ve already cropped bok choy back in May that I started indoors, and I’ve replanted another row. I just added some compost and it kept growing, so now that’ll be cropped in late June, and the zucchini went in, with this cold May, only about seven to 10 days ago, and it’s starting to take off.


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