The Benefits of Companion Planting

Companion planting is the idea that some kinds of plants can help each other grow. Plants that are compatible generally need similar soil, nutrients and moisture levels.

Advice
about which plants are compatible is sometimes based more on tradition than fact. But experts say there is evidence to support certain combinations. These can improve harvests, reduce disease [and] help control pests by attracting helpful insects. For example, some kinds of soil bacteria take nitrogen from the air and make it into a form that plants can use. The plants hold, or fix, the nitrogen in their roots. Legumes are especially good at nitrogen-fixing. Then any crops that share the same space as the legumes can get the nitrogen as the roots decompose. Beans and potatoes can also share territory well because their roots reach different levels in the soil. Deep-rooted vegetables get nutrients and moisture from lower down in the soil, so they do not compete with plants with shallower roots.

But some plants placed together can harm each other's development. For example, tomatoes do not like wet soil, but watercress does, so you would probably want to keep them separated. Some kinds of produce should be kept apart even after being harvested. This is because of ethylene gas. Ethylene is a plant hormone that can cause some kinds of produce to ripen too quickly. This risk of ripening too soon is why markets often separate high ethylene-producing foods from those that are sensitive to the gas. But if you put an apple in a bag with a green banana, the ethylene from the apple will make the banana ripen sooner.

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Europe's Horse Meat Problems

Ikea recently recalled frozen meatballs from its European stores after tests found some contained horse meat. Czech investigators said they found small amounts of horse meat in Swedish meatballs at an Ikea store in the Czech Republic. Ikea is the big Swedish company that sells furniture. But its stores also sell Swedish foods. The packaging said the meatballs contained beef and pork. Ikea said meatballs from the contaminated batch were sent to stores in some other European countries. They included Belgium, Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands.

Recently, laboratory tests found horse meat being sold as beef in a number of European Union countries. The EU law enforcement agency, Europol, is investigating the meat industry. Owen Paterson is the British environment secretary. He says the sale of horse meat as beef is unacceptable. He called it a fraud on the public. Millions of food items have been removed from stores, schools and hospitals. No one has reported any health problems, and the French eat horse meat. But the situation has upset consumers across Europe.

In Britain, horse meat was discovered in frozen meals sold by the Swedish-based frozen food company Findus. In France, an investigation has accused the French meat processing company Spanghero of knowingly selling horse meat as beef. The company denies the accusation.

The EU requires the packaging of fresh meat to identify the country where it was produced. But in prepared meals only the kind of meat used is required to be listed.