principles of intercropping

The Principles of Intercropping, featuring Lettuce and Broccoli, and Sprouts and Radishes

Has anyone out there in the blogosphere tried intercropping?

I’ve only dabbled with intercropping before, having been fairly blessed with space on the allotment. Now I’m in the garden, often found frowning and head-scratching at where the next crop will go, the idea of growing two crops together in a space where I’d normally grow one is rather appealing.

I’ve tried three different intercropping experiments this year, which are all at varying levels of progress.

Lettuce and Purple Sprouting Broccoli
A good intercropping strategy is to plant a tall crop with one that doesn’t mind some shade. On that basis, I planted out lettuce seedlings in between purple sprouting broccoli.

principles of intercropping

If you look carefully you’ll see five quite mature lettuces nestled happily in amongst the broccoli. The lettuces started off less than three inches high, and have grown well despite being shaded by the big PSB leaves.

Radishes and Brussels
Radishes are also content in shade, so I’ve tucked some in amongst my sprouts. They germinated fast, as radishes do this time of year, and at the moment seem unconcerned by their cropping partner.

intercropping sprouts

I planted a couple of blocks, one with rows and one sprinkled, just to see which way would be more productive.

Beetroot and Kale
At the weekend I tried beetroot with kale. I’ve got the tall-growing kale variety in the plot instead of the dwarf, so they’re ripe for planting with a shorter crop. I chose beets here as they don’t grow too high so won’t be competing against the kale.

It’s also important not to put two crops together that require lots of water. Both beetroot and kale don’t go mad over water, so make good companions.

Shallow-Rooting Crops with Deep-Rooting Crops
Shallow-rooting crops can be planted with deep-rooting crops, and radishes are perfect for this. They grow quickly, so could be a good choice in with parsnips or carrots. I’ve seen one gardener sow radishes and carrots in the same row at the same time, and then thin out for a double crop.

Increasing yields from a space is an exciting thing to do, but what makes intercropping really fun is experimenting with all sorts of planting combinations. A short one with a tall one, speedy grower and slow grower, deep and shallow; the plot is your oyster.

Has anyone else out there tried intercropping on their plots or in the garden? Have you had successes? Any intercrops you’d like to recommend?

8 thoughts on “The Principles of Intercropping, featuring Lettuce and Broccoli, and Sprouts and Radishes”

  1. Hey Jono,
    great minds etc,my own blog post photos today also show some examples of interplanting.
    Chard (beet family) between kales and purple sprouting broccoli.
    Mixing lettuce and radish seed seems to work well as gaps are left for the lettuce to fully develop once the radishes are pulled up.
    Lettuce and chard also seem to be a good mix.
    I grow dwarf beans with courgettes and sweetcorn in the 3 sisters style. I think that you can put dwarf beans in with almost anything (apart from alliums maybe).
    Although cabbage and lettuce are meant to hate each other I find that lettuce and kale/broccoli get on fine together.

    1. Hey David, thanks for your comment.

      I thought about chard, but figured as it has such a long season it might get in the way once the bigger plant gets established? I love chard, one of my favourite veg to grow.

      I’ve got some sweetcorn ready to go out, so am thinking of doing 2 of the 3 sisters with French beans. I prefer the dwarf bean variety so this would be perfect.

  2. Like you in the past Jono, I haven’t really needed to however I have tried lettuce and radish with the brassicas. The biggest problem I found with intercropping was once the nets went over the beds to protect the plants from the cabbage white butterfly. It became fiddly to keep removing the netting for harvesting (and weeding come to that) so I havnt tried it since. You have just reminded me that I haven’t planted any lettuce outside yet though, it’s all in the polytunnel!

    1. Yeah, I can see that the netting could be a pain. I hadn’t thought of that. I haven’t needed netting yet, and being in my garden rather than the plot I was hoping I might get away without this year.

      Lettuce and radishes seem a good choice for companion planting.

  3. Jono – I enjoy the enjoyment you obviously get from your garden.

    A traditional combo is tall sweet corn and runner beans, with an undercrop of pumpkins. The pumpkin leaves keep the corn roots cool in the heat of summer (OK what summer heat?) and the spent corn (and beans) get pulled up to allow the pumpkins to ripen in late autumn.

    Personally I grow the beans on a fence to make them easier to pick regularly without stomping all over the pumpkins, but I do grow courgettes (and lettuces) under the runner beans – they like the extra nitrogen from the bean root nodules.

    Radishes can get sown with any slow starter, as they germinate quickly marking the rows, and are harvested early.

  4. Thanks TM. I do love growing veg, even more so now I’m doing it in my garden. There seems a real connection with my house and family there.

    Funnily enough, I’ve got a photo from my first allotment year where I planted my runners next to courgettes, and the courgette plant is beautiful and huge. I did this by pure coincidence, but it might explain a lot. 🙂

  5. Hey Jono

    As I started my gardening in back gardens in London, I’ve been using this method for years. It was mainly when I was container gardening but now I’ve got more space can’t quite get out of the habit.

    My favourites to plant round things are sorrel, choriander, rocket (but any small salad works), chard, nasturtium, kale for cut and come again (to keep it small). I also add edible flowers around the veg like borage and calendular. Spring onions are another good one. The list is endless really – anything that grows small, that you can use as a cut and come again. Pea shoots are another good one.

    Have fun experimenting

  6. We actually put it on our sdniwaches as a spread…it was good like that. It is a good bean dip, but not great. Actually now that I tried the garlic scape pesto, I think I will be making (and freezing) that with my garlic scapes. It was so good and versatile.

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