I am a very routine type of person. I try to wake up every morning at the same, albeit via the very annoying sound of the alarm clock my mother in law gave me as a Christmas gift. Maybe she is trying to tell me something, who knows. I am, however very routine. I like to do things a certain way, have my “stuff” in a certain location and so on.
The other morning as I was sitting at the breakfast table reading my newspaper I glanced up to look out the kitchen window at my vegetable garden. I had strategically placed my garden so I could view it in this manner, although my wife thinks it was pure luck. While admiring the fruits of my labor, plants with budding veggies and herbs ready to be plucked, I couldn’t help but notice some areas in the garden where I could have planted more.
You see, here in New Jersey we get about five really good months of vegetable gardening weather and because it is so short I try to make the most of it by using as much space as I can through a technique which I will get into in a moment.
Could I have fit in some parsnips or carrots there? How about growing some pole beans or cucumbers? Now I was driving myself crazy with the thought but I did write it down in my garden planner (my notebook I use so I can improve my garden each season).
When you grow vegetables along side different varieties in the hopes of using every inch of space possible that is the art called companion planting or intercropping. It is nothing new and has been in use as far back as Aztec culture (according to Wikipedia).
Intercropping is when you grow carrots in between your tomatoes, or pole beans in between corn. In other words, not only using that extra space, but in the case of our second example, using one vegetable (the corn) to help out its companion (the pole beans).
When you use solid intercropping in your garden, you get other benefits besides more vegetables, such as less space for weeds, support for neighboring plants (such as we already touched on), and provided shade for better moisture retention.
If you are going to take advantage of the space you have by using intercropping, try following these suggestions to enhance your success.
Plant your heavy feeding vegetables with your light feeders. This will allow those vegetables that do not need a lot food to thrive while vegetables that require a lot can still get what they need.
What would happen if you planted two oak trees next to each other about six inches apart? They would fight for ground space as their roots got larger right? Same holds true with many varieties of vegetables. So our next tip is to match vegetable plants that are deep rooted with plants that are shallow rooted. In other words the deep rooted plant will grow far beneath the soil, such as carrots and parsnips, while vegetables like garlic and onion will have their roots near the top.
Take advantage of the shade that taller crops, such as corn, sunflowers and tomatoes, provide by planting cooler crops, like spinach and lettuce, beneath them. These plants do not do well in very hot temperatures, but if you can shade them a bit they will still receive the sun they will need without getting baked in it.
Take advantage of every inch of space you have by implementing intercropping techniques that can help produce a more abundant harvest as well as many other benefits. Now, if I could only bury that alarm clarck in the garden, hmmm.
About the Author
Mike is the author of the book ”Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person” and the administrator for the largest vegetable gardening group on Facebook. Mike can be reached via his website AveragePersonGardening.com.