Many vegetable gardeners go at their planting with a laser focus on getting as many veggies planted as possible, leaving no space for anything else. However, organic growers usually recognize that a healthy garden needs more than just vegetable plants.
A healthy garden requires a mixture of components that promote a regenerative (beyond sustainability, regenerative improves the garden) system. Healthy gardens need lots of organic matter. They need insects, both pests and beneficial. They need a dazzling array of colors, shapes, smells, and root systems.
One of the main allies in a healthy garden is support species, companion plants that are primarily in service of the system rather than producing huge harvests. Undoubtedly, French marigolds (Tagetes patula) are a great addition to vegetable gardens, and the ways are numerous.
When selecting support species, they must be low-maintenance. Simply put, vegetable gardeners shouldn’t be spending time coaxing non-crop plants into existence. Marigolds are agreeable growers from seed, and they are an inexpensive bed plant otherwise. Sow them inside in pots a month or more before the last frost.
Though they are annual plants, meaning they must be started anew each year, they are prolific self-seeders. In other words, if we leave them in the garden to mature, they will plant themselves for next year’s marigolds. This means, however inexpensive they may be, we may not have to buy seeds or plants after the first year.
By no means will anyone ever want to sit down for an entire plate of marigolds for lunch, but the petals are edible and provide a flush of color to dishes throughout the summer and early autumn. They are described as a cross between mildly citrusy and somewhat spicy. Use them raw in salads and to garnish dishes like tofu scrambles, soups, and stir-fries.
Though there is scientific debate as to the true efficacy of marigolds as straight pest-deterrents, lots of folksy wisdom says they most certainly are. Organic gardeners have long used them as such, particularly in the battle against nematodes. They are also believed to thwart Mexican bean beetles, whiteflies, and cabbage moths.
In addition to deterring some pests, marigolds are apt at distracting others, acting as a sacrificial plant that protects susceptible crops. Slugs, in particular, love marigolds and will often happily devour them instead of going after those brassicas. When a gardener sees the marigolds suffer, then it might be time to usher some slugs out of the garden.
While marigolds deter some pests and distract others, they are also attracting pollinators to the garden. We all know bees and butterflies play a crucial role in pollination, but there are plenty of other insects in that mix. Some of these other insects, like ladybugs and predatory wasps, hunt and feed on other insects, again helping to keep the pest population in check.
It’s great to pull a load of vegetables out of a garden, but there is more to life than simply eating, however fun that might be. Sometimes the beauty of a vase of flowers is enough to bring a smile. Marigolds are lovely flowers that can be cut fresh or dried to include in arrangements around the house and on the dinner table.
Rich soil has abundant soil life, and that life feeds on the organic matter found in the soil. At the end of the growing season, lots of gardeners cut plants and leave them atop the garden beds to decompose and get eaten over the winter. Marigolds are great for mulch material to help revitalize the soil year after year.
Including beautiful flowers in the vegetable garden, particularly as bed borders and edge plants makes a lot of sense. Marigolds are one of the best, if not the most highly regarded, to use. Two other great options are zinnias and nasturtiums, both of which are also edible, beautiful, and incredibly helpful.
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