Intercropping and Catch Cropping.

Person Author: Helen Fowler Calender May 16, 2013 Posted No Tags Comment 2 Comments

If you are short of growing space or want to make the most of the space you have, there are a couple of growing practices that can help. These growing methods are commonly known as Intercropping and Catch Cropping. These ways of  growing are not new, but have been somewhat forgotten by many gardeners. With many new gardens being smaller and long waiting lists for allotment sites, Intercropping  and Catch Cropping, could be a way to maximise harvests in smaller spaces, even in tubs and containers.


The Intercropping method is simply growing different vegetables together, one well know group planting with a long history is called ‘The Three Sisters’.  The Native Americans grew maize or sweet corn in a block, when the corn was growing, climbing beans were then planted at the base of the corn stems. Squash plants would be planted in between the corn plants and allowed to trail and spread across the ground. The idea was that as the corn grew tall, it would act as a support for the climbing beans, the beans would fix nitrogen from the air and this would feed the corn. The squash would spread out across the ground and it’s large leaves helping to smother any weeds, they would also help keep the soil moist and shaded. In the hot Southwest, rows of sunflowers were add for their shade and this was then called ‘The Four Sisters’. We rarely have a warm enough summer to practice this method, but there are many other simpler combinations that I use myself.

The best combination of vegetables are ones that have differing heights and root depths. Vegetables that grow tall and ones that will be in the ground for a while, often have space around them or underneath, that could be utilized for an added crop. I like to grow a block of sweet corn, with dwarf or french beans underneath, both of these veg can be raised in pots undercover, then planted out in early June. If you have a sunny spot, you could grow outdoor cucumbers underneath, or a squash or any not too tall vegetable. Here you can find our range of vegetable seeds, and grow more vegetables together. If you have room between your potato ridges, this space can be used to grow another vegetable. Sweet corn, broad or dwarf beans are a good choice, or dwarf peas.

I have often grown rows of carrots or beetroot in-between my rows of onions and garlic, this combination is often said to help repel each others pests and is sometimes called companion planting.

Garlic and onions can also be grown in the strawberry bed, in between the strawberry plants.

Catch Cropping.

This is similar to intercropping, the main difference is that you are growing a quick, ‘catch crop’ of fast growing salads or herbs in any space between or below a main vegetable crop, before it gets grows tall or wide, and casts shade.

Lettuce, salad leaves, coriander, rocket and radish are the best ‘catch crops’. All these can be sown or planted in the clear area of soil between the main crop vegetable rows. The quicker growing catch crop will be harvested long before the main crop needs the space. Try a salad catch crop between rows of peas, parsnips, leeks, garlic or main crop onions. Radish, coriander, rocket and salad leaves grow fast and a row or small patch of these can be grown in quite small spaces.

Many people are growing vegetables in pots and containers these days,  and intercropping and catch cropping can be used to advantage here too. Try herbs and salads at the base of tomatoes in large pots. Salad leaves can be grown in with pot grown onions or garlic, and again will be harvested before the other main veg needs the space. I have grown salads below pot grown broccoli and onions beneath purple sprouting broccoli and sprouts.

Remember if you are combining plants, try to think about how each individual plant can compliment the other, either different heights, different root depths or advantageous feed requirements. As plants will be grown closer together, the soil or compost used will need to be good or well enriched and the plants may need extra feeding, but these methods of growing could increase your crop harvest from a moderate space.




2 Responses to “Intercropping and Catch Cropping.”

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