Dear EarthTalk: I want to start an organic vegetable garden in my yard and I would like to know how to combine crops to make better use of time and space.
—Val Thomason, Denton, TX
Most commercial farms concentrate on growing a few select crops to supply a wide variety of customers, but gardening at home is a different story entirely. Most backyard food gardeners are looking to augment their family’s diet with a variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs throughout the growing season.
For those of us who face time and space constraints in our gardening endeavors, combining crops within the same planting areas makes a lot of sense. Such techniques are particularly well-suited to organic gardens where chemical fertilizers and pesticides aren’t used to artificially boost crop productivity.
The most common way to combine garden crops is via an age-old technique called interplanting, which in essence means planting various garden edibles with different growth and spacing attributes together in the same soil beds or rows. One example involves combining fast-maturing vegetables, such as lettuce, field greens or beets, with slower-maturing ones like winter squash or pole beans. According to the informational “Our Garden Gang” website, mixing tall plants, like sweet corn, peas or staked tomatoes, with low-growing crops such as melons or radishes, is another way to maximize diversity and yield.