Beans Think Onions Stink

If bean plants could talk, they’d ask the onions to leave the premises immediately. This is for real, people! They’d pinch their noses and shout thusly: “Hey! You wid da face! You’re pudding a big hurt od by doze! Gid oudda here awreddy! Can’t lib here wid dis stinking.”

The onions cry. After all, they can’t help the fact that they were born with a natural fragrance that bean plants find offensive. Not to worry, the cabbage family is happy to have onions in the neighborhood. Must like that Italian cooking, maybe?

Forgive me while I indulge in this good stink / bad stink talk. In these parts, It’s time to start the garden up, and I get to thinking out loud about who goes where in the dirt. Companion planting, the practice of growing plants that benefit from each other, is a cool thing for us organic-type gardeners. That’s because if plants can be happy together, they are much healthier. Having healthy plants means more yield and fewer problems with bugs and diseases.

Onions exude chemicals that prevent beans, peas, and other legumes from making nitrogen in the soil with their toes. If you’ve ever yanked a bean plant out of the dirt, you might have noticed the rhizomes (little round bumps) on the roots. Well, the beans do NOT have tumors.  The rhizomes are where the action is:  bean-friendly bacteria live there and make nitrogen for the bean plants and anyone else who happens to be nearby.  That is, unless the onions are in town. Then they just sit there, remaining all tiny and twiddling their toes.

Cabbage and its relatives (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.) love those onions, because they help keep the cabbage butterflies away, and also keep the aphid population down. Both of those bugs love their cabbage, but, like beans, most bugs also hate onion breath.

Another example of companion planting is when corn says thank you to the beans and peas for being there and doing the cool nitrogen toe jam thing. The beans and peas give the corn a high five for wind protection and some shade. Corn plants also make nice poles for peas and runner beans to grab. Between the corn rows, squash or pumpkins get the shade they like, and they in turn shade the corn’s roots and keep them cool. Everybody happy.

On the other hand, you have marigolds. OK, maybe you don’t; but those can go near anything. All the vegetable clans love marigolds, and they even stimulate growth. My kinda plants!

Grandmas and Grandpas used to know lots of this stuff, and Native Peoples were very much in tune to companion planting. Farm and garden chemical companies would love for you to forget all about that stuff though. Those fancy commercials showing folks winning cool prizes for big veggies do tend to get one’s attention. Unfortunately, chemical companies are conveniently quiet about the nasty stuff flowing into our lakes and streams when herbicides and pesticides are washed out of our dirt during a good rain.

But fear not, organic produce are finally becoming more mainstream. People are “discovering” that when the pilgrims found the Indians were growing pumpkins in their corn, it was no accident.

Back to the beans a second (uh-oh, he’s gonna get weird again). I know some people who agree with beans about the onions. Some folks just can’t stand onions or the smell of them. If you like raw onions, your sweetie might say something like, “No kissy face for you until you brush them chompers!” Onions and beans are great food things. I love them together, and regard the combi as almost cosmic. Of course, there is a by-product of eating too much of either: methane. In its natural state, methane is colorless and odorless. When generated by human food eating machines, it is often released with a “PHOOT!!” noise and can have a rather diSTINKtive odor.

HOLY COW!! I JUST HAD A BRAIN-FART!! We may be able to achieve world peace with this combination! Get regiments of bean eaters, right? March them into enemy territory two or three hours after the whole bunch of them cram a few truckloads of bean burritos laced with onions in their faces. No troops in their right minds would try to fight against anyone during such a gas attack. We’re talking victory with no chemical weapons here! Peace could be had without firing a shot, except for the occasional audible report from those burrito eaters. The only hitch would be to strictly enforce an important rule, which would need to be posted with very large placards:

ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING ALLOWED.

So the moral of the story is: if you must plant beans and onions together, plant them in your tummy, not in the dirt.

And please, always remember to visualize whirled peas.

So if you find any of these beans, please save a couple for me!