Year Five, Intercropping, Core Gardening & Square Foot Gardening: Part One

Rachel H Kay Blog

Year Five, Intercropping, Core Gardening & Square Foot Gardening: Part One

Last years garden was not a productive one. Because I got my plants out so late in the season, I had a good harvest in the beginning, but shortly after, when the worst of the heat set in, even with adding shading in the afternoon during June and July, my poor plants just didn’t produce as well as the previous years. You live and you learn right?

So this year I’m changing it up after doing a bit of research on new options to try, working more with rotating some of my crops between different garden beds, intercropping, giving core gardening a try, and using square foot gardening to have a more bountiful harvest. Oh and don’t forget companion planting.

Rotating Crops

First off this isn’t something I tried much since I have limited space to plant, and not a whole lot of raised beds to choose from. I’ve also kind of lost a garden bed due to a large tree that makes it a shaded bed in the spring and summer, and a full sun bed in the fall and winter. So I had to get crafty at how I rotated my crops.

I continue to grow my favorite plants, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and a melon crop, but there are some other crops I haven’t tried that I really want to try, such as corn, legumes, and potatoes. Using companion planting, and rotating what crops I plant in what beds, as well as continuing to grow some plants in pots, I think this year will be a productive year. Right now I’m just waiting on all the rain to die down so the ground will dry up a bit allowing me to at least get my garden beds ready for new plants. But more on that later.

Why Rotate Crops?

The purpose of crop rotation is to not grow a plant from the same plant family in the same place two years in a row. This helps with nutrients in the soil and with pests. Let's say you plant tomatoes in one of your garden beds one year, and bell peppers in another, but you’ve also planted cucumbers and watermelon in other garden beds. The next year you want to grow those same crops, but if you plant them in the same garden beds as you did before they won’t do so well.

Plants of different families use different nutrients in the soil. Tomatoes and bell peppers are from the same plant family, the nightshade family, so planting them in the same garden bed, or in a garden bed that one or the other was planted in the year before, would cause them to not be as healthy and productive and be more susceptible to pests, because all the nutrients they need to be healthy and strong were used up the year before. The same goes for cucumbers and watermelon. They are both from the squash family.

Those garden beds would either need to be replenished with completely new soil, or would need to have nothing but legumes planted there to put nutrients back into the soil. Hint: have an in ground garden bed and need to replenish the soil? Grow legumes in that garden bed for a growing season. Legumes are a great way to replenish soil with all the nutrients plants from any plant family will need. The same can be done for raised beds when you don’t want to throw away soil and buy more.

Another reason you shouldn’t grow plants from the same plant family in the same garden beds year after year is because of pests. Plants of the same plant family are susceptible to the same pests. These pests will attack your plants year after year, more brutally than the last when they are planted in the same place each year. Why? Because pests know where to look for their favorite feast when those plants keep getting planted in the same place they’re easier to find. Also, some pests lay dormant in the soil. If the same plants they love to feast on are planted in that same bed the next year, they just begin feasting all over again. Crop rotation helps to confuse pests. They can’t find their favorite feast as easily the next year because you’ve moved it to another garden bed.

But what if you don’t want to grow nothing but legumes to replenish the soil, or you have limited space and can’t figure out how to grow what you love to grow without growing them in the same garden bed year after year? This is where crop rotation with companion planting comes in handy. Hint: don’t forget to add compost to your soil when preparing your garden beds each growing season, which will help add nutrients. You can also use peat moss in the soil.

Using Crop Rotation & Companion Planting

Using crop rotation and companion planting you can help plants benefit from pest confusion and keep them healthy because the soil they grow in isn’t stripped of what they need.

I have three garden beds, two are raised beds, and one is an in ground bed. Last year I grew melons in one of my garden beds, cucumbers in another, and bell peppers in another garden bed. This year I can’t put tomatoes or other bell peppers in the garden beds that had bell peppers or tomatoes last year. Nor can I grow any type of melon in the garden bed that had melons. So I decided to move things around, but with little space I had to get crafty and use companion planting and intercropping in order to grow more crops. I also decided to delegate other areas of my yard and plant pots for other crops that I want to grow, but still use companion planting to get more benefits. Here are some of my plans to help give you ideas.

My Garden Plans

Legumes, Corn, Squash & Sunflowers

One garden bed is going to have a lot of what’s called intercropping. This is where you companion plant not just for pest confusion, but for plant growth and health as well. This garden bed will have a plant from the legume family, Sugar Ann Snap Peas, corn, which you can also find in dwarf varieties, pumpkins and/or squash, as well as sunflowers. Why? Because since the pumpkins and squash grow along the ground they’ll provide ground cover to hold moisture in the soil. The corn will provide support for the beans as they begin to grow and vine out. The beans will grow up the corn and then wrap around the trellis. The sunflowers will love all the nitrogen that the corn will add to the soil, which the legumes won’t use much of. They will also attract bees which will help with pollination for the other plants in the garden bed. They will also help to keep birds from the corn with their seeds. Plus, corn, sunflowers and squash, or any plant from the squash family can be planted together providing each other with a type of give and receive relationship. Pretty neat huh?

Melons, Cabbage & Bee Balm

Here’s another example. You can plant melons, which will grow up a trellis since its a vining plant. Then you can plant cabbage in the same garden bed which will act as a ground cover as well, and won’t inhibit plant growth with the melons. Then you can plant bee balm which will attract bees and help with pollination. Depending on which growing zone you live in you will have to harvest the cabbage a bit earlier than the melons. Or you could try using shading during the hottest parts of the day once it gets warmer to extend the growing season of the cabbage. Last year I just used old sheets, attached them to 5 ft tall bamboo stakes, or the fence if a garden bed was near one. What ever I could find. I created a tent with the sheets, and shaded my garden beds with them during the afternoon once the hotter months arrived. For me in zone 9 thats June and July. I may even add some petunias and nasturtiums to help with pests.

Tomatoes, Nasturtiums, Petunias, Basil, Lettuce & Coneflowers

I’ll give you one other example. Plant tomatoes with nasturtiums around their bases, basil, lettuce, and coneflowers. The nasturtiums will help with pests that would attack the tomatoes. They repel whiteflies, squash bugs, aphids, and many beetles and cabbage loopers. The basil, lettuce, tomatoes and coneflowers can all be safely grown together without causing any harm to the other. Plus the lettuce will also act as a type of ground cover. You can also add petunias for extra help with pests. They repel squash bugs, tomato hornworms, asparagus beetles, leafhoppers and aphids.

There are plants that can happily be planted together to get the most out of intercropping and companion planting, and there are plants that would not help each other out at all. You can see a list here on the farmers almanac that will help get you on the right track to intercropping.

What About My Cucumbers & Bell Peppers?

As for other plants I’m planning on planting, such as cucumbers and bell peppers. Those will be planted in plant pots. For example, I’ll be planting cucumbers in two large plant pots, each with a netted trellis that’s attached to two 5 ft tall bamboo stakes. I’ll also add radishes, which can be planted with cucumbers, but work best sown outdoors, so I’ll have to get them in the pots before the cucumbers, and harvest them early in the season. If I take advantage of shading during the hotter months I may be able to keep growing radishes a bit longer.

A similar setup will work for bell peppers. Grow them in a large pot, and use spinach as a type of ground cover. Harvest early, and try shading to extend the harvest.

Don’t Forget The Potatoes!!!

I’m also trying potatoes this year, and have the perfect place for them. There is some gardening space near our shed which has had mint growing abundantly for years. I don’t really plan on killing off the mint, but maybe thinning it out so I can plant potatoes. I’m thinking of trying sweet potatoes with beans, I’m going to try edamame, which is more of a pole bean, but doesn’t require a lot of support. Thyme, basil or chamomile. I haven’t quite figured out which yet. Beets, which can be planted around the potatoes, and will be harvested before the potatoes. As well as petunias to deter pests, and tansy, coriander (cilantro), or catnip to help deter Colorado potato beetles. Phew, that’s a lot.

For anyone who isn’t partial to sweet potatoes you can grow Yukon potatoes with kale, basil, and cilantro.

Hopefully this post has given you some help and ideas on how to make companion planting and intercropping work for you. If you want to get more tips on plant families so you know what can and can’t be planted in the same garden bed, or what can and can’t be planted in the same place each year, have a look at my post Understanding Plant Families.

In the next post I’ll explain about core gardening and square foot gardening, and how it can benefit your garden and your harvest.

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About Me

Hi there. I'm Rachel Kay, a Web Developer, Illustrator, & Designer, whose hobby is to be creative and artistic, while freelancing as a Web Developer building creative, modern websites.