By Sommer Cartier.
Intercropping to Maximize Variety and Yield
Regardless the size of a garden, there never seems to be enough space for all that we would like to grow. We’ve all experienced that moment when we realize we got carried away and purchased too many seeds/seedlings without ample space to grow them. When this occurs, a technique called intercropping can be useful.
Intercropping utilizes garden space that is free while waiting for slow growing crops to fill out and mature. While slow growing crops are small, the space between them can be used to grow quick maturing vegetables such as arugula, radishes, and baby bok choy.
This spicy green matures in just 30 days. Planting: Sow seeds directly in soil, ¼ inch deep, and keep moist during growing cycle. Sow every few weeks for steady supply throughout the season. Harvesting: Use the “cut and come again” method - cut outer leaves leaving inner leaves to continue growing. The flowers can also be harvested and eaten. This will add a splash of color and flavor to any dish while encouraging plants to continue producing foliage, extending the life of the plant. Recommended varieties: Wild Rocket for pungent flavor, Dragon’s Tongue for unique color and flavor and Astro for the more characteristic spice.
One of the fastest growing crops. Most varieties can be harvested 3 to 4 weeks after sowing. Planting: Sow 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart. As they germinate, thin seedlings 2 inches apart, allowing them space to grow. Keep moist and water consistently and evenly to prevent cracking. Harvesting: Check seed packet for expected size and time to maturity. If left to grow beyond expected size, radishes turn dry and woody. To harvest, lift entire plant out of the ground and replace with new seeds. Recommended Varieties: There are two types of radishes- spring and winter. Spring radishes have shorter growing period, generally maturing in less than a month. Cherry Belles mature around 22 days and have a pleasant, mild flavor. Winter radishes require longer growing periods but store better and have a more distinctive flavor. Watermelon and French Breakfast are popular winter varieties.
Baby Bok Choy:
Compact bok choy varieties that are eaten young are called "baby" bok choy. Baby bok choy can be harvested in roughly 30 days. These Asian greens are a type of Chinese cabbage that have deep green leaves and tender white stalks. They are great in stir-fries, soups and salads. Planting: Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep in rich, fertile, well-draining soil. Thin when 2 inches tall, allowing 6 inches between plants. Harvesting: Use the “cut and come again” method or harvest whole head and replace with new seeds. Recommended Varieties: Shanghai Green has mild flavor and can be picked as baby or full grown. Joi Choi has great flavor, is slow to bolt and is hardy.
For those willing to forgo perfectly planted rows of single crops, give the intercropping method a try. You are sure to be amazed by how much produce you’ll enjoy this season.
Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with an MA in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement.