She never did.
Crammed with nudges and winks, this educational piece was originally published in the May 2022 issue of Cross Pollination, the newsletter of the Halton Region Master Gardeners.
By Bev Wagar, Halton Master Gardener
Carrot had been growing beside Tomato for only a few weeks when she realized she didn’t like the guy. In fact, she couldn’t stand him. And couldn’t let the rumours continue.
“It’s not personal, Tom”, she said. “But I think the expectations around our relationship were far too high.” Sadly, Carrot’s attempt at tact did not have the desired effect. Tomato erupted in a flood of sticky tears.
“But… but… You said you loved me!” Although they were just beginning to form, he let a few flowers drop to show the depth of his feelings for her. Tom had never been good at hiding his feelings. He couldn’t help but droop at the slightest thirst and his leaves turned yellow at least provocation.
“I never said that,” Carrot retorted, a bit too quickly. “It was that book and all the humans who read it. Something about ‘companion planting’. Malarcky, all of it, and now I’m stuck here, trying to grow in your shade.”
Tom arched over his unwilling companion with a sad fondness. He’d loved Carrot from the moment they’d met. She’d been planted as a seed, back in late April, and had already been thinned once before Tom got plunked in beside her. Right away he was smitten. And when her soft frilly leaves began tickling his lower stems he became so giddy his leaf axils sprouted six more secondary stems almost overnight.
“The human who planted us had good intentions” said Tomato. “I overheard her talking about all the different plants that are supposed to like or dislike each other. The book was about secrets and mystery—and rules. So many rules! Apparently our human was skeptical about the ‘lack of scientific evidence’ or something like that, but she was going to follow the book’s advice anyway.”
Carrot tossed her curly green locks and shot him one of those looks reserved for naughtly seedlings. She knew Tom wasn’t to blame for the current situation. But she also knew he was a Big Boy, an old hybrid, robust and resistant to many of the diseases his type was prone to. He wasn’t going away and, unless his cage broke, he wouldn’t get any shorter. And they were both in clay, so her root was struggling to get to the usual depth while Tom’s roots did not seem to mind.
“The human’s little experiment is not helping me at all. Most of the bi-peds are nuts anyway” she snarked. “And now you’re getting all crazy, too. Tom, you need to stop telling everyone we’re in love!”
Carrot noticed the stunned look on Tom’s face but kept going. “You think you’re doing me a favour by providing shade? Is that it? Well just because I like it cool doesn’t mean I don’t need sunlight. And Tom, you big lug, you’re hogging it all!”
It had to be her hungry chloroplasts talking, thought Tom. Surely the sweet-scented seedling he adored would not be so cruel.
“Carrie sweetheart, what did I do? Why are you treating me like this?”
She hated that name but kept her composure. She wasn’t finished.
“And what’s with all the fertilizer, especially the nitrogen,” she continued. “That blue powder the humans mix up and douse you with. Well it doesn’t stay on your side. I can’t stand it. Makes my root get all hairy and weird.”
“I had no idea” said Tom. “That stuff is like candy to me. But I wish they’d give me real food, like fish meal or manure or any of those, what do they call them, organic ferts, but I don’t have any choice, do I?”
Carrot softened a bit. They were both stuck in the same garden. Tomato wasn’t a bad plant, just a little thick. Was it the gorgeous fruit that made him so popular? Sometimes Carrot wished she wasn’t so, well, difficult. A little popularity would surely keep the humans from treating her like a useful but dispensable sidekick to that big sauce-monkey overhead. She re-arranged her leaves and tried her best to sound gentle and caring.
“You and I have such different cultural requirements, Tom. Why would the humans think we love each other?”
“Something to do with you repelling insects that are supposed to be attracted to me,” replied Tom. “Or your flowers that are supposed to bring in the ones who eat the insects that eat my leaves. When the humans talk about that stuff it’s all mixed up with moon phases and star positions and something called astro-zoology.”
“A bunch of mystical mumbo jumbo,” Carrot quipped. “But the insect stuff does make sense in a general way, even though most of the little buzzers just want my flowers and those won’t happen until next year, if I even live that long. But what about the here-and-now? You’re so big nobody knows I’m here. What good am I doing you? Besides, I’m the one who’s suffering!”
Tom was about to reach down and tickle her frilly mop-top when they both noticed the Birkenstocks. The human was back! And what was that in her hand? A garden fork! Carrot knew her time had come. Even though her root was short, she was being harvested for a sweet snack.
Tom didn’t quite know what was happening until he felt the soil churn around his north-facing roots. Carrot had just enough time to say goodbye before she was uprooted and dumped into a wicker basket with the others.
For a few days Tomato was inconsolable. He indulged his melancholy, longing for his pretty carrot companion, the root he loved. But as the sun arced higher in the sky, his tall indeterminate vines sprawled, and one by one his fruit grew heavy and irresistibly red. Tom basked in the attention and admiration, forgetting his teenage heartbreak. There was no lack of water, no blossom-end rot, no wilts, no hornworms. All in all, Tom had a good season.
Read more about companion planting
“Companion Planting” rules as presented in popular books that anthropomorphize plants are vague and, in many cases, unsupported by science. For a critical overview of the topic, read Linda Chalker-Scotts’s The Myth of Companion Plantings. https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/companion-plantings.pdf . According to Chalker-Scott: “Pseudoscientific, mythological and occult applications of “companion plantings” are not scientific and will damage your credibility as a professional.”
Concepts that are supported by research include:
intercropping and polyculture: These are terms used to describe agricultural production methods using mutually beneficial species. The University of Vermont’s Food Systems Blog provides an interesting overview: https://learn.uvm.edu/foodsystemsblog/2014/01/09/controlling-pests-with-plants-the-power-of-intercropping/
plant associations / plant communities: In the fields of Ecology and Biology, these terms are used to describe species that: share a common environment; and interact with each other, animal populations, and the physical environment. https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Conservation/WildPlants/PlantCommunities/Pages/default.aspx
trap crops (although some argue this practice is not really an “association”): This term describes the practice of adding plant species as decoys for pests https://ipm.cahnr.uconn.edu/perimeter-trap-cropping-works/