Back when I first started home vegetable gardening, what seems like many many moons ago, I never even heard of intercropping. In fact the first time I even heard the word I thought someone had made it up. So I did some research on the matter and found out that yes it is a real world and intercropping has tremendous benefits for your garden.
Traditional home vegetable gardeners just like to plant what they like to eat, in rows that make sense to them, harvest the fruit that they expect, and perform the work (i.e. weeding, watering etc.) they need to do to get their plants to grow.
Not many, at least the ones that I have talked to, partake in the activity of intercropping. Intercropping gives you the ability to utilize unused space and do so for more than just more fruit but for a purpose.
Intercropping is when you grow multiple varieties of vegetation within the same row or area. What this does, is allow you to use the space that would otherwise be left unoccupied or eventually occupied by weeds if you haven’t taken proper measures with a weed barrier.
An example of good intercropping would be to plant pole beans along side corn so the beans have a means to grow up without the use of poles, trellises and so on. Now that is more of an aesthetic use, but intercropping offers more of practicality as well.
You can eliminate weeds around the slower growing plants like tomatoes and peppers, by planting fast growing plants like radishes or certain varieties of beets. Also intercropping helps utilize a lot of the soil you have available for more vegetation by planting deep rooting plants next shallow rooting plants. The USDA website has a complete list of both of these. When you do this the roots of each plant are not fighting for soil space and nutrients and exist on their own planes in the ground.
For reasons that scientists have not yet discovered, there are certain plants that actually help other plants fight off diseases and insects. This topic goes beyond the scope of this article, but many professional organic gardeners have found that when you plant certain varieties of herbs next to particular species of vegetable plants, there is reduction in the amount of crop disease and insect attacks. One such example is when you plant dill in between squash and some other broadleaf vegetables; it has shown to deter many invasive insects.
One word of caution when you start with intercropping (and of course you should), and that is when you are removing vegetation that has matured, take precautionary steps so that you do not disturb the underlying layer of roots of the plant that will remain.
Intercropping is an excellent technique; some even call it a tool, in a home vegetable gardener’s arsenal of options to get the most fruits and the greatest abundance of harvest in minimal spaces. If you are not using intercropping techniques in your own home vegetable garden then you definitely should. And if you use raised beds due to lack of space on your property then you definitely want to do some intercropping.
About the Author
Mike is the author of the book Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A guide to vegetable gardening for the rest of us. He can be reached at his wesbite: AveragePersonGardening.com where you can sign up for his free newsletter and he will send you a pack of vegetable seeds to get your home vegetable garden started.