How to Interplant to Get the Most out of a Small Vegetable GardenSaturday, March 5, 2016
Planting your own vegetable garden is a great way to cut down on your grocery bill, grow varieties that aren't available in your local stores, and avoid harmful pesticides without shelling out more for an organic label. It can also be therapeutic, helping you unplug and slow down during your day. You may think that you need a big space for a garden, but you don't. You can take what you have and use the Interplanting method to get the most out of a small vegetable garden space.
Make sure to mark the direction your garden faces. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, you'll want a South-facing garden. (If you were in the Southern Hemisphere, you would want a North-facing garden.)
Next, make a list of the vegetables you love to eat and check to see if they can be grown in your area. You can do this by finding your area's Hardiness Zone. Here is a Wikipedia article listing the zones for major US cities. It also lists areas for Europe, Australia, and Canada.
Once you have a list of the vegetables you'd like to grow and that will flourish in your area, buy your seeds. Keep in mind that lettuces, leafy greens, and broccoli/cauliflower need an early, cool-weather start. Here is an article (For Dummies) on growing leafy greens.
I recommend Heirloom seeds as the best investment
You can save hybrid seeds (the type usually sold in garden centers), but you can't be sure what you'll get the next time you plant. Hybrids have been cross-bred for the most desirable traits (uniform appearance, higher yields, etc.) and the resulting saved seed may revert to one or other of the parent-types, leaving you with a vegetable variety that you may not be happy with.
Add to that Heirloom varieties are tastier. (If you like tomatoes, try a Cherokee Purple or a Brandywine!) They can also be more nutritious in some cases. The one-time investment in Heirloom seeds can last for the rest of your gardening life. You'll never have to buy seeds again!
Chart your vegetable information
I knew I wanted a ton of tomatoes, peppers, and summer squash so I gave those veggies the lion's share of my garden. I then placed broccoli, cucumbers, okra, peas, and beans. Lastly, I interplanted spinach, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, garlic, and 3 onion varieties. In my garden chart above, the visual representation on the right helped me to plan and visualize the whole garden. The graph on the left showing the center points of the plant widths gave me accuracy on where to sow seeds/transplants.
You can chart your garden easily with only paper and pencil (a geometry compass is handy) using your measurements.
You can also use a graphics program, which makes the task much easier than cutting out paper to scale.
(If you want to use a computer program, do a Google search for "free gardening planner program." You should find some basic free programs along with some paid programs that offer a free trial. I can't recommend any because I haven't used them, but you can give them a go!)
I would recommend using paper and pencil with measurements or a computer program, but some may do better with the visual nature of the cut-out paper.
Chart your garden
Then fill in with the partial-shade plants. You can use beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, onions, peas, radishes, turnips, and leafy greens to fill in the gaps of your garden. These plants can usually grow in around 4-6 hours of sunlight a day.
Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater
I know it sounds complicated, but it will be worth the initial effort. To help you out, here is a handy cheat-sheet of interplantings that will do well together:
- Bean (bush) - celery
- Bean (bush or pole) - lettuce, spinach, radish
- Cabbage - pepper, tomato
- Cole crops - celery, lettuce, spinach
- Corn - lettuce, cabbage, potato
- Cucumber (bush) - Okra
- Cucumber (trellised) - celery, lettuce, spinach
- Eggplant - celery
- Lettuce - carrot, onion, radish
- Okra - cucumber
- Onion - carrot, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, eggplant, pepper
- Pea (trellised) - lettuce, spinach, cabbage
- Sunflower - cucumber
- Sweet potato - pumpkin
- Tomato (staked) - lettuce, carrot, cabbage, spinach
This Interplanting how-to is just a beginner's method. Once you've mastered pairing plants by light and shade you can also implement other methods for pairing plants by root growth patterns, successions and relays, and soil nutrient use. I recommend the book (affiliate link) Getting the Most from Your Garden. I have a copy of my mom's from 1980 and it's full of fantastic intensive gardening methods.
I hope this method helps you bring in a record yield from your small garden space. Ready, set, start your interplanted garden!
What are your favorite things to plant? Do you currently have a vegetable garden? Have you ever tried interplanting? I love to read your comments!