Margaret Lauterbach

Learning lessons in companion planting, garden-bed proximity and seeds

I planted squash beds in my two large raised beds next to the lawn, one flanked by mint and the other not far away. Squash plants are overwhelming the beds, and I’ve not had any plant die because of squash bugs. I thought I planted squashes that squash bugs were not interested in, but I’m sure that strong minty odor is repelling them.

All of the butternut squash seeds planted in one bed seem to be putting out squashes that look like fat spaghetti squash. What? Where are the butternuts? I used up the seed pack and discarded it, unfortunately. I don’t know what kind of squash these are, but they’re rather amazingly early. Planted in mid-May, one I tested was impervious to thumbnail, so I cut it loose from the vine. Thumbnail plus woody stem usually indicates ripeness of winter squash.

I had thought mint was repelling squash bugs, and perhaps it is to some extent, but in the bed a few feet distant from mint I found squash bug eggs on several leaves, but only one cluster of eggs in the bed next to the mint. I’ve scraped most eggs off onto the path, where nymphs won’t find anything they consider edible, and have sprayed Neem on egg clusters I can see from a distance but can’t reach.

I am harvesting Lebanese koosa, Zapallo del Tronco and zucchini from the mint-adjacent bed. The rind of the Zapallo del Tronco is pale green, but in the past I’ve grown it and Zapallito del Tronco, and they had dark green skins. The difference may be in the different compost I used this year (that is, steer manure-based compost from Edwards Greenhouse).

Now I see a 2-inch butternut and 4-inch sweet meat squashes forming, but there are half a dozen of the spaghetti squashes that appear to be ripe. Now the dilemma is whether I should remove the spaghetti squash vines from that bed as I harvest the spaghetti squash.

I’ve had an up-and-down year in this garden. Beans for use as dry beans and tomatoes are thriving and fruiting abundantly. Planted beets, but birds and insects ate primary leaves so that went nowhere. I’ve planted Slenderette green snap beans in three different beds, only to have very spotty germination. That’s usually such a reliable crop, this failure is a huge disappointment. I’m going to have to buy those seeds from a different vendor for next year. I’m still trying to fill in the third spotty row. If it weren’t so hot I might be tempted to dig up the three or four plants in another bed and bring them into the fold. I might try that anyway.

I planted carrot seeds, and they were so delayed germinating that I forgot I’d planted them in that bed, so I transplanted chile plants there. Now I have chile plants surrounded by carrots, but none of them seem affected by that weird companionship. Companion planting sounds good on paper, and there’s even a book called “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” extolling the virtues of companion planting. A gardening friend who has tried that combination disagrees, saying they’re not good companions. Gardeners should keep a record for companion planting information instead of relying on that of strangers in other climes.

She does grow beans near potatoes, though, to repel Colorado potato bugs. Folks from Washington state, and perhaps Oregon, call sowbugs “potato bugs,” but I have no idea why. Colorado is not known for growing potatoes, so why does the main attacking insect of potato plants bear its name? Because the Colorado potato bug fed on a spiny weed called buffalo bur in Colorado, where the bug was first discovered. Once it found potatoes, the insects quickly changed dietary preferences.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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