Intercropping-Friends Helping Friends

Intercropping vegetables diagram
Diagram of intercropping types of vegetables

Intercropping is the practice of planting one plant in between other plants. An example would be planting lettuce in between heads of Cauliflower or Broccoli. Since the Cauliflower or Broccoli have to be planted 18-24 inches apart, it leaves a lot of space to plant lettuce.

There are several variations of intercropping:

Mixed intercropping, where two crops are mixed haphazardly in the available space.

Row cropping, where the two crops are planted in alternating rows.

Temporal intercropping, when you plant a fast-growing crop in with a slow growing one at the same time.

Relay intercropping is similar, in that you plant one crop; then when that one is almost ready to harvest, you plant the second crop.

Successful intercropping needs the proper planning and forethought. You don’t want the crops competing for the same resource. For example, don’t plant two deep-rooted plants because they will compete for soil nutrients at the same depth. Don’t plant two tall plants together, as they will compete for sunlight.

You will also have to increase the spacing between the plants to allow room for the other plants to grow. This will decrease the yield of both plants, but having them grow together in the same plot will mean increased total yields.

Some considerations in intercropping are the root depth, the plant height, and the sunlight requirements. For instance, plant carrots (deep roots) with onions (tall plants), or lettuce (shallow roots) with beets (deep roots).

This practice is beneficial for many reasons. It helps in pest control, due to multiple plants confusing the insect pests. It reduces plant diseases because plant spacing is increased. It also attracts more beneficial insects, or concentrates insect pests for better control. It utilizes the ground better, providing more shade (reducing weeds), increasing soil biodiversity and doubling the amount of crops grown on a particular garden patch.

So, if you have been following along with me, planting the fall garden, by this time you would have planted Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Swiss Chard, Kale, Parsley and Peas. If you haven’t planted yet, take this post into consideration hen you do plant.

Plants with a shallow root structure are Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale and Parsley. Plants in this list with deeper roots are Carrots, Peas and Swiss Chard. Put these plants on your inter plant list.

Now look at the height of the plants. Cabbage, Carrots, and Parsley are low-growing plants. Broccoli, Swiss Chard, Peas and Kale are taller plants.

A shallow-rooted, tall-growing plant like Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale or Parsley can be inter planted with low growing, deep-rooted Carrots, Peas or Swiss Chard.

Shallow-rooted plants can be planted with deep-rooted plants. Low-growing plants can be planted with taller plants, provided they are planted to the south of the taller plants, and can get the most of the fall sunlight.

As you plant, remember to increase the inter-plant distance to compensate for the other plant you are growing. Later on in October, we will continue planting other plants, in among the plants that by that time will be well-established.

While other gardeners will be shutting down their garden, your garden will be going strong, and with any luck at all, will be producing vegetables far into December and maybe even next year!

So, let me know what you are planting in the fall, and what your experiences have been!

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