When you have a small garden, it can seem like your plants all compete for premium space come springtime. How do you decide what to plant and what to pass on? Do you grow staples you'll use all year long in the kitchen, or unusual varieties you can't find in the market?
With intercropping, you can take advantage of the limited space you have — while growing all the vegetables you want — by analyzing the needs of your vegetables and timing your plantings strategically.
Intercropping is the practice of growing two or more plants in the same bed, at the same time, to maximize your available space. An example is planting a tall plant with a short plant that needs partial shade (such as Brussels sprouts with spinach) or utilizing the empty space between rows to produce a secondary plant (such as fast-growing radishes tucked in next to slow-maturing vegetables).
Spring radishes are one of the first plants to come out of a vegetable garden; from seed to harvest, the whole process takes less than four weeks. That makes it an ideal plant to grow between other plants that typically take two to three months to harvest. Radishes can be pulled from the ground before the other plants start to grow larger and block the sun. And because they're so small, they can fit in between the tightest of rows.
In this project, we seeded spring radishes between starts of tomatillos, peppers, and eggplant. Depending on your climate and the age of your starter plants, you can seed two or three rounds of radishes before the bed becomes too crowded.
How to Intercrop a Raised Vegetable Bed
- Starter plants
- Seeds for spring radishes
- Miracle-Gro Nature's Care Organic Raised Bed Soil
- Miracle-Gro Nature's Care Organic & Natural Vegetable, Fruit & Flower Food
- Fill the raised bed with Miracle-Gro Nature's Care Organic Raised Bed Soil and rake it smooth.
- Transplant your starts at the recommended plant and row spacing (per their plant markers). Water deeply and thoroughly so that the first 3 to 4 inches of soil is saturated.
- Make a shallow furrow in the soil between the rows of plants, and sow the seeds about 1 to 2 inches apart. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, and lightly water so as not to dislodge the seeds.
- Keep the soil consistently moist until the first radish sprouts appear in 3 to 7 days. When the radishes reach a couple of inches in height, apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to the raised bed. Make sure the mulch doesn't pile against the stems of your plants.
- After 3 to 4 weeks, harvest the radishes. You can seed a second round of radishes between your other plants, and continue intercropping until the weather turns too hot or the other plants become too large. Once the last radish plant is harvested, fill in the empty space with more mulch.
Caring For Your Plants
Water your plants every 5 to 7 days, or up to 3 times a week in high summer. Water any time the first 3 to 4 inches of soil feels dry.
Start feeding your plants about a month after planting. Miracle-Gro Nature's Care Organic & Natural Vegetable, Fruit & Flower Food is a great option – it has microbes that break down organic matter added to the soil (like, feather meal and bone meal) and release the nutrients to the plants. Sprinkle evenly over the surface as instructed on the package. Work it into the top 1 to 3 inches of soil.
Harvest your plants frequently to encourage production all season long.
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