Intercropping your garden
If you have a small garden with only limited space for vegetables and would like to get the most out of your plot, it could be a sensible move to try ‘intercropping’. Basically it means planting quick growing crops in between rows of slower growing or taller crops. This will maximise all available space increasing productivity and helping to keep the weeds down, it is an invaluable growing method for smaller plots and especially raised beds.
Growing certain crops together can be beneficial in other ways, for instance all types of peas and beans take in nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the roots and releasing it back into the soil. Nitrogen is necessary for healthy leaf growth so it makes sense to grow leafy crops such as lettuce, spinach and other similar varieties close to or in between your beans. The leafy crops will also benefit from the shade cast by the taller beans, as will squash and courgette plants which in turn will cover the soil with their large leaves helping to keep the weeds down.
Parsnips have a long growing season so it makes sense to grow beetroot or radish between rows, they will be ready to harvest long before the parsnip roots swell and they need the space. Grow salads between rows of onions, again fast growing cut and come again crops are just perfect for the job. Most quick growing crops can be grown between sweetcorn, try dwarf french beans and oriental vegetables such as pak choi, mustard or chinese cabbage. Once again these will be grateful for a bit of shade from the taller sweetcorn. Outdoor tomatoes need a sunny spot to ripen the fruit but they prefer some shade at the roots to help prevent loss of moisture. Growing a crop such as swiss chard close to the tomatoes will give some welcome shade and stop them drying out too quickly.
If space is tight and you prefer to have an ornamental garden rather than rows of vegetables there are some really pretty vegetables that will fit into your borders beautifully. Runner beans are almost as beautiful as sweet peas and look great growing up canes at the back of the border and are even better climbing over an archway or pergola. There are varieties with pink, bi-coloured and white flowers as well as the more usual red ones.
Swiss chard Bright Lights has beautiful glowing stems and there are lettuce in all shapes and colours. Dazzle is a great Little Gem type with sparkling red and green leaves. Bijou has frilly, blistered, glossy deep red leaves and looks great in the salad bowl, it has great crunch too. Any of these can be intercropped with your flowering plants – ornamental and delicious at the same time!