In 2002, activist and biologist Janine M. Beynus popularized an experimental farming technique called “prairie farming.” In this technique, crops are grown alongside other non-crop plants (mainly perennials) native to the farming area. By combining crops with these prairie plants, the farm naturally replenishes its soil, deters pests and, overall, improves the general health of the farmland environment.
Prairie farming developed as an economical and environmentally friendly way to grow crops on an industrial scale. At the moment, our current crop-rotation techniques are polluting soil and water, and the soil is losing its essential nutrients that ensure the survival of future crops. Ecologists predict that with our current farming systems, we’ll deplete our nation’s soil of its ability to grow crops within the next two decades.
The University of Iowa has since revealed seven years of data regarding its “science-based trials of rowcrops integrated with prairie strips,” or STRIPS for short, which is a controlled method of prairie farming. So far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive and have application for professional outdoor grow operations.
When done at a smaller scale, the concept behind prairie farming may be thought of as “companion” planting.
Why and how to companion plant
To disguise your grow: This may be the most obvious reason to grow companion plants alongside your cannabis crop. Even in states where cannabis cultivation is legal, local laws may require that a grow be concealed. A disguised grow may also deter something far more destructive than pests: human thieves.
Growing other plants like lavender or lemongrass in the same place as cannabis may mask the smell. This would need to be done with strains that do not carry potent scents themselves (so skunk strains are probably out of the question).
Outdoor grows can be disguised by growing larger plants in the vicinity. Sunflowers and corn are obvious choices, but even bushy plants can conceal your cannabis garden, especially if you prune your plants early on.
To deter or distract pests: Every grower dreads a pest infestation. Besides being incredibly disgusting, pests can damage crops, decrease yields and increase overall costs of a grow operation. By growing other plants alongside it, pests may be attracted away from your cannabis crop and toward other perennials or vegetables.
For example, tomatoes are ideal for attracting spider mites away from your cannabis crop. Coincidentally, tomatoes thrive under the same conditions as cannabis plants. Dill can repel spider mites, while marigolds, peppermint, garlic or basil will keep the whiteflies and other aphid-type insects at bay.
If you’ve included ladybugs or predator mites in your garden as a way of preventing spider mite outbreaks, including these other plants in your grow is an excellent way to keep these mites off your cannabis and on something else.
For outdoor grows that have issues with animals like deer or rabbits, consider planting hot peppers in the area.
To ensure soil health: For a lot of growers, maintaining the delicate balance of nitrogen levels in the soil can be a difficult task. Fertilizers have a way of spiking nitrogen concentrations to dangerous levels—but overwatering can deplete nitrogen, too. If you’re willing to share nutrients and resources, planting beans in the same soil as your cannabis will help fix nitrogen in the soil; this should lead to fewer headaches in the long-run.
The companion plants you cultivate alongside cannabis depend on what you need for your grow, as well as for the ecology of your grow environment. Nearly any garden plant can confer some benefits to your grow—so diligent research, experimentation and observation are your best guides here. Some grows may not require any additional plants, and companion techniques should be reserved for growers who have considerable experience.
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