Sunday, August 17, 2014

Peppers Don't Like Beans - Fact or Fiction?


My son’s birthday is in the beginning of August so it is always a super busy time for us.  We usually have a family get-together on one weekend and a party with his school friends on the next.  One year we tried to combine them and it was just a bit much for me.  I much prefer two smaller gatherings to one big one.  Yesterday was the friends party and we are done!  My focus can now go back to gardening - and the 100 other things that have taken a back seat over the past couple of weeks.

So now I arrive at my pepper observations.  In the last little while I have noticed that the peppers planted next to the beans are doing significantly better than those I planted with the tomatoes.

Pepper Plants in Tomato Bed
 
Pepper Plants in Bean Bed
 
The pepper plants in the bean bed are a darker green (although this is hard to tell from the pictures), lusher & larger.  I have already harvested numerous peppers from both beds.  Each time I pick peppers, I go over all of the plants and I always seem to pick a few more from the bean bed plants. And now you can see they are once again full of peppers.

There are 4 pepper plants in the bean bed, two hot and two sweet.  The two hot pepper plants currently have 22 peppers on them, either ready to pick or still growing.  And the hot pepper plants in the tomato bed?  19 peppers - total.  And that is for nine plants!  Quite the difference.

The sweet peppers are doing much better in the bean bed as well.

Sweet Peppers in Bean Bed
 
One plant has two peppers while the other has a whopping 6 peppers on it.  The tomato bed sweet peppers all have one pepper each and most of these are on the small side.

Both pepper sections are planted on the south side of bed and have tall plants on the north side (with nothing shading them in the front), so they both receive roughly the same amount of sun.  And both of these beds were new this year, so the soil mix is exactly the same.  I also amended the soil in the pepper section of the bean bed in the same way (proportional to its size) as the tomato bed.

When I noticed that the pepper plants next to the beans were doing much better, I automatically thought that this meant they were good companions and I promptly went to look this up, just to see what was said about that combination.  To my surprise, I found the complete opposite.  Apparently they are bad companions.

Generally, I try to keep crops from the same family in each bed as this makes it much easier when it comes to crop rotation.  But I didn’t have enough room in the tomato bed, so I had to find another spot for four of the pepper plants.  Of course, I had no idea that you are not “supposed” to plant beans and peppers together when I chose the bed for the extra peppers.  Had I been aware of this, I likely would have picked a different spot for them.  I want to maximize my chances of success so if “they” say that these two plants don’t belong together, with very few opinions to the contrary, than I will generally follow this advice.
 
While I was reading about how peppers & beans make bad companions, I also found lots of people questioning why this was.  Not specifically because they had experienced the same results as I did, but just because they wanted to know what the reasoning was behind it.  Was it bad for the peppers?  Did the beans fix too much nitrogen in the soil resulting in lush plants with few peppers?  Did the beans shade the pepper plants?  Or was it bad for the beans in some way?  So far, my beans do not seem to be impacted at all, although I really don’t have too much to compare this with, especially with the bacterial brown spot issues in the last two years.

No one seemed to have an answer – the only thing that everyone agreed on was that there was this general “rule” that said not to plant them together.  When I started my first tiny garden 20 years ago, I did purchase the old classic “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte (1975), but have seldom referenced it.  A quick flip to both the bean and pepper sections of the book showed no mention of companion planting with these two, one way or the other.

My Copy of an Old Classic
 
And there is one more explanation that I can think of that has nothing to do with companion planting.  Perhaps the peppers are not doing better in the bean bed, per se, but rather, they are doing worse in the tomato bed.  Are the plants in the bean bed typical of how they should be doing while those in the tomato bed are underperforming?  Maybe the huge tomato plants are using up too many of the nutrients in the bed?

I’m still trying to find my gardening legs, so to speak, and I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed as it is.  Adding another element of complexity to the mix, such as companion planting, is not a priority right now.  But sometimes ignorance is not such a bad thing.  How often do we do certain things simply because it’s “always been done that way” yet we have no idea why that is the case?  And every once in a while, we stumble on a better way of doing "X", purely by accident, and then wonder why we had never questioned the old "tried & true" before?
 
I’m not sure what I will do with my little pepper observations when it comes to planning the garden for next year.  I could do an experiment, planting half of the peppers in a tomato bed & half in a pole bean bed and then keeping track of production from each group.  But then again, if I am seeing larger, more productive pepper plants in the bean beds this year, why not just go with it and simply switch up my beds and plant all of my peppers on the south side of the pole bean beds?  I will still be able to do a very rough comparison with this year’s harvest, although our cool summer weather will likely skew the results even more.  I’ll have to ponder this when I do my bed layouts this winter.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

4 comments:

  1. I've found that most things don't make much of a difference in my yard except where nematodes are concerned. I used to grow Ground Control marigolds with my tomatoes (when I grew them way back when) and it helped a lot. And I've found that I can't put carrots after certain crops because nematodes really affect them too. Worse than the tomatoes. But most other things I don't worry too much about. Supposedly you aren't supposed to put alliums and peas together, but I did it for years with no difference detected between the ones near the onions and the ones not near the onions. Or visa versa. It could be a problem thing (like nematodes in my garden) that doesn't exist here. So I can ignore it. Now if the recommendations would come with an explanation it would be useful.

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    1. That's exactly it - not knowing why something should or shouldn't be planted together really is the key. Like the marigolds, I'm sure many recommendations have to do with attracting beneficials or repelling destructive pests. But if you don't have an issue to begin with, then those combinations really don't make any difference.

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  2. Interesting observations! My guess (and it is just a guess from afar for sure) is that the peppers in the tomato bed are competing with the tomatoes for similar nutrients. The beans are not heavy feeders, while the tomatoes are. I generally add slow release organic fertilizer in the planting hole for peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. And I use a fertilizer made for tomatoes (Espoma Tomato-tone). For beans I don't generally fertilize at all. But then I plant these things in wide rows and not beds too which makes my conditions a bit different.

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    1. I'm thinking that this may be the main contributor to the difference as well. I am feeding both the tomatoes & peppers with a fish/kelp fertilizer every two weeks, but considering how large the tomato plants are compared to the pepper plants, they are probably using up more than their fair share of the nutrients within the bed.

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