Companion planting is based on the idea of another permaculture concept – stacking functions.
Every element (read: plant, animal, mineral, etc) has multiple functions. When we can bring complementary functions together, we can dramatically enhance yields and simultaneously reduce labor hours needed.
For example, have you considered what services a chicken offers?
To start, what does a chicken do? It scratches the dirt as it searches for bugs and worms to eat, it poops as it wanders around the yard, it lays eggs, and if you’re an omnivore, it provides protein for your family. In terms of services for your garden, it helps to keep insect pest populations down, adds nitrogen in the form of manure, and provides food for your family. One chicken helps in so many ways – you won’t need to add as much compost because your chicken is already fertilizing your garden.
You can try stacking functions not only for plants and animals, but also for structures in your garden. For example, you’ll likely want to have a tool shed for a fully functioning garden. You can add rainwater barrels to your shed, or channel the rainwater into an artificial pond. Keep the pond clean by planting wetland plants such as water lilies, reeds, hyacinths, and cattails.
Some permaculturists practice aquaponics, which has a fish tank at the bottom and hydroponically grown plants at the top. A stream of water is piped from the fish tank through the hydroponic tray, where plant roots have access to a continuous flow of water. The water is filtered by the roots, as plants take up the fish waste as nutrients, and then returns as clean water back into the fish tank. It is a closed loop system that cleans itself while providing fish and vegetables for food. Aquaponics demonstrates the potential of stacking functions to enhance yields and reduce labor hours.
Some will take this lesson back from the garden and into their own lives. You too have multiple skills and talents to offer. The most fruitful collaborative relationships come from partnering up with others in complementary ways. That way everyone benefits and your collective success can be drastically improved.