Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Companion planting

Back in April when I first documented the planting schemes for the new raised beds, I was busy researching companion planting and mentioned my frustrations – “… One [source] says sow plant C everywhere as it’s the magic bullet of companion planting, another says keep it on its own because it’s allelopathic to many other plants (yes, it really does get that extreme – and plant C is Lovage, Levisticum officinale).”

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) in a companion planting scheme

The person who pronounces Lovage allelopathic is Sepp Holzer – “This popular medicinal and culinary herb hinders the growth of neighbouring plants and spreads vigorously, so it is best to plant it alone in its own corner of the garden.”(Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, page 162, caption to the photograph of Lovage). The original source of Lovage’s claim to fame as the magic bullet of companion planting, on the other hand, is harder to trace. Such claims have a way of propagating through the internet and many sites echo the assertion without giving the impression the author has actually tested this for themselves. Yet it’s repeated often enough to warrant attention … Who to believe?

Somewhat inadvertently, I’ve been able to test these conflicting claims and it’s provided the most dramatic demonstration of companion planting I’ve so far encountered.

I planted some Lovage back in April, intending to give it space to itself in a shadier portion of the raised beds, but shadier wasn’t shady enough with the early heat this year. The seedling failed to thrive and with no foliage or sign of life remaining, I planted the bed up with broccoli seedlings instead and thought no more of it.

So coming back from a month away, it was a happy surprise to find the lovage had somehow recovered and was now a healthy young plant. More impressive yet was the size of the growing broccoli. The broccoli plants in the Lovage bed are almost double the size of the broccoli plants anywhere else. This includes those a couple of feet away in the next ‘ray’ of the same bed. All other conditions in this bed – light exposure, soil quality, watering frequency – are identical. In fact, the plants immediately surrounding the Lovage are almost double the size of the plants just outside that circle in the same bed.

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) in a companion planting scheme

Note how the broccoli plant nearest the camera is about half the height of those surrounding the Lovage behind it

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) in a companion planting scheme

I’d like to test this further with lots more different plants. And also determine whether the age and size of the Lovage has an impact. Or the season. For all the evidence of my own vegetable beds, Sepp Holzer’s wisdom and experience count for a lot and apparently opposing and/or paradoxical viewpoints rarely resolve into something as simple and black-and-white as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

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  1. Farida Alluch August 19, 2011

    Exelent initiative!!! would love to visit you, since I m also starting a permaculture project in North of Morocco. Would it be possible_? greeting

  2. Quinta do Vale August 19, 2011

    Hi Farida. Yes it’s possible to visit. See this page.

  3. rica September 15, 2013

    Did you know this about Josef “Sepp” Holzer?
    He was born July 24, 1942 in Ramingstein, Province of Salzburg, Austriaand is a farmer, author, and an international consultant for natural agriculture. After an upbringing in a traditional Catholic rural family, he took over his parents’ mountain farm business in 1962 and pioneered the use of ecological farming, or permaculture, techniques at high altitudes (1100 to 1500 meters above sea level)[1] after being unsuccessful with regular farming methods.

    Holzer was called the “rebel farmer” because he persisted, despite being fined and even threatened with prison,[2] with practices such as not pruning his fruit trees (unpruned fruit trees survive snow loads that will break pruned trees).[3] He has created some of the world’s best examples of using ponds as reflectors to increase solar gain for Passive solar heating of structures, and of using the microclimate created by rock outcrops to effectively change the hardiness zone for nearby plants. He has also done original work in the use of Hugelkultur and natural branch development instead of pruning (see Fruit tree pruning) to allow fruit trees to survive high altitudes and harsh winters.

    He is currently conducting permaculture (“Holzer Permaculture”) seminars both at his Krameterhof farm and worldwide, while continuing to work on his alpine farm. His expanded farm now spans over 45 hectares of forest gardens, including 70 ponds, and is said to be the most consistent example of permaculture worldwide. In the past he has experimented with many different animals. As a result of these experiments, there is a huge role for animals in the Holzer Permaculture. For example, Holzer is using pigs to dig new beds. This is a very effective way of digging, as the only thing he has to do is to throw some corn and fruit on the spot he wants dug up. A couple of days later, he can bring the pigs back to their enclosure and plant new plants in the bed. Holzer is able to successfully grow his plants without using any fertilizer.

    He is author of several books, works nationally as permaculture-activist in the established agricultural industry, and works internationally as adviser for ecological agriculture.[4] He is the subject of the film The Agricultural Rebel directed by Bertram Verhaag.[5]

  4. Quinta do Vale September 16, 2013

    Hi Rica. Yes I do know about Sepp Holzer. That’s why he’s mentioned in this post!! I have his books, which is how I’m able to give the page reference to his quote on lovage :-)

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