Last Updated on February 1, 2022
It’s frustrating as a gardener to plant crops where you only have a short amount of food storage. This is acceptable if you’re producing crops for canning or dehydration. However, if you want to always have food on hand, interplanting or intercropping is an excellent method to do so.
What is Interplanting/Intercropping?
What follows is a very simple tutorial that will assist the beginning gardener to understand the basic principles of interplanting. We all have to start somewhere, right?
Interplanting is when you grow two crops in the same space at the same time. Intercropping is when you grow three or more crops in the same space at the same time. This method saves room by allowing 2-3 crops to be harvested instead of one crop. It also allows less sunlight to hit the ground due to having more plants and trees.
If you have a small garden, group your vegetables so there is more space between them. You can save this space by using interplanting to grow 2 vegetables at the same time. For example, plant purple beans and tomatoes together. Both of these plants need a lot of sun and their vines give each other plenty of room.
Another example is planting strawberries with carrots in a small garden space. The strawberries count as the “trellis” for the carrots to climb on with very little ground space. You can also plant carrots, beets, or parsnips since they do not require much sunlight and are not technically vines. Plant them between rows of other crops.
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How Do You Interplant?
You can interplant by using either raised beds or in-ground planting. For in-ground planting, you simply need to plant the crops in between the spaces of your previous crop.
Raised beds work well because you can grow taller plants in the back and shorter plants in front. However, if you don’t have a garden bed, that’s okay too! You may use pails, buckets, jars, crates, or whatever you have available to grow your food.
Another form of interplanting is creating vertical gardens out of trellises, poles, stakes, and wire mesh. Plant peas in between the trellis to add another layer on how many plants can fit in a small ll area.
First, remember to plant crops of similar height together. Planting tall plants in the front of your space help prevent weeds from growing. If you want more crops, make sure you plant them closer together rather than further apart.
Second, keep planting time in mind! Some plants need a longer amount of time to grow while others grow relatively fast. If you don’t like the idea of planting time, intercrop instead.
The Benefits of Interplanting
Interplanting saves you time because it doesn’t require as much weeding, watering, or thinning. You can plant a lot more crops close together than if they were separate because there is still adequate space and sunlight for them to grow well.
You use less water and fertilizer with interplanting vegetables since each crop takes up less space. You save on materials by recycling your soil and compost rather than constantly buying new, expensive garden supplies.
Interplanting can draw in pollinators to help increase crop yields while also decreasing the chances of pest infestations because they will not have a “home” to return to after eating all of your crops! Of course, you should still be vigilant about looking for any signs of pests or diseases on your plants.
Interplant crops that are in the same plant family together. This limits the time it takes to rotate them which helps maintain nutrient levels and assists with pest resistance.
It also allows you to create specific harvest windows throughout the year. For example, if you plant peas and greens together, you’ll be able to harvest all of them at the same time.
What You Will Need Before You Start:
Determining how much space your new plants will need and where they should go in relation to other plants. This can be done by drawing a diagram and marking out spaces on it (if you are interplanting in-ground), or drawing out the garden bed (if you are interplanting in raised beds). You should also make sure that your new crops will not overgrow each other.
- The number of seeds, transplants, or starts to sow for each crop.
- Natural fertilizer like compost and manure.
- A garden rake or hoe to keep down weeds.
Steps to follow:
- Decide if you want to interplant in-ground or raised beds. This will depend on how much space you have, the layout of your garden, and what materials you have available to you.
- Draw out a diagram that shows the layout of your garden beds. If you are interplanting in raised beds, draw out the garden bed itself.
- Mark the location of your existing crops and any space you have between them so that you can plant new ones. Make sure the space allows for enough sunlight to hit all parts of it.
- Clear away anything that is living or dead from this space. If you are interplanting in-ground, use a garden spade or shovel to remove some of the existing healthy plants close to where you want your new ones planted.
- Proceed with planting according to your diagram, keeping in mind that it will be beneficial to plant crops that are closely related together.
Things to Remember When You Interplant
- Decide what crop rotation you want to use. This will depend on what types of vegetables or fruits you are planting. You can rotate plant families, for example, Brassicas (broccoli, turnips, cauliflower) cycle from spring through fall. In the winter, you can either plant a cover crop or let them go to seed and collect those for the next season.
- Work out how much space your new crops will take up. Make sure you have enough space in between the two crops so they won’t overgrow each other. You can go online to get a printable chart that has the space requirements for over 200 different vegetable crops.
- If you are interplanting in-ground, plant your new crop up against the previous vine, bush, or ground cover by removing some of the previous growth. Make sure you don’t remove all of it so that your new plants receive enough sunlight.
- If you are interplanting in raised beds, you can plant your new crop wherever there is space between the other crops. As long as it’s not too close to the edge of the raised bed, you can plant it there. This takes a bit more planning because you have to still work with whatever the garden bed is given.
- Water when you need to and be sure to weed regularly. Keep your plants well nourished by giving them compost, manure, or other natural fertilizer options in the spring and fall before planting starts. This will help give your crops a boost during their growing season and make this type of gardening much more successful for you.
Be creative and keep it fun! Remember, more crops grown in the same space = more food harvested -> less money spent on groceries. This is a win-win situation for any homesteader!