Intercropping and its Advantages

Intercropping, also known as interplanting is a great way to get more from the space in your garden without having to actually expand your current garden. Intercropping is defined as the growth of two or more crops in proximity in the same field during a growing season to promote interaction between them.

The most common goal of intercropping is to produce a greater yield on a given piece of land by making use of resources that would otherwise not be used by a sole crop. Intercropping uses the plant’s natural growth pattern to match crops together and maximize space in the garden. Hence careful planning is required, taking into account the soil, climate, crops, and varieties. It is particularly important not to have crops competing with each other for physical space, nutrients, water or sunlight; otherwise the main purpose of intercropping will have been lost!interplant 5

Intercropping allows for intercrops to more completely absorb available growth resources, such as light, water and nutrients and convert them into plant matter as a result of their difference in competitive ability for growth. This more efficient utilization of resources leads to yield advantages and increased stability compared to sole cropping.

Furthermore, the multifunctional profile of intercropping allows for other positive roles such as resilience to disturbances, increased protection of individual plant species from their host-specific pests and diseases, encourage biodiversity by providing a habitat for a variety of insects and soil organisms, reduce erosion and protects top soil, attract more beneficial insects, minimize development of weeds, improved product quality and reduced negative impact of arable crops on the environment.

Factors of Intercropping

When two or more crops are grown together, each must have adequate space to maximize cooperation and minimize competition between the crops. Several factors are to be considered for successful intercropping, such as,

Intercropping carrots and radishes.

Intercropping carrots and radishes.

-Spatial arrangement, plant density, maturity dates of crops and plant architecture.

-Crops planted together should approximately need the same amount of sunlight and water and have similar soil preference.

-Plants have different root growth patterns; shallow rooted, medium rooted and deep rooted. The idea is to interplant crops so that they won’t compete directly with each other. E.g.: Corn, broccoli, spinach, cabbage and lettuce are all shallow-rooted crops. Cucumbers, turnips, beans, summer squash, carrots and peas are medium-rooted. Tomatoes, asparagus, winter squash (including pumpkin) and parsnips are deep-rooted.

-Crops belonging to the same family are not meant to be intercropped as they make for easy targets for pests. Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes should not be paired. Also, crops with common pests should not be planted together. Hence, tomatoes and corn which are attacked by tomato fruitworm/ corn earworm should not be planted together. Squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and melons share the same enemy, the pickleworm, thus should not be planted close by.

Types of Intercropping Practices

There are a number of ways for people to utilize the benefits of intercropping.

-Mixed intercropping, is the most basic form in which crops are totally mixed in the available space.

-Row intercropping is the cultivation of two or more crops simultaneously on the same field with a row arrangement.

-Strip intercropping is growing two or more crops together in strips wide enough to permit separate crop production using machines but close enough for the crops to interact.

-Relay intercropping involves planting a second crop into a standing crop at a time when the standing crop is at its reproductive stage but before harvesting, to make room for the full development of the second.

Intercropping Examples

Examples of intercropping strategies are planting a deep-rooted crop with a shallow-rooted crop, planting a light nutrient feeder with a heavy feeder, planting a tall crop with a shorter crop that requires partial shade, or planting a fast-maturing crop with a slow-maturing crop.

Radish and Carrots: Plant radishes with carrot seed. The radishes germinate and are harvested first, leaving space for the slow-maturing carrots.

Spinach and Tomatoes: Plant spinach in between tomato plants and they will mature before the tomato plants get large enough to shade it.

Onions and Cabbage: Onions will grow faster than cabbage and can be grown in between cabbage plants. As the cabbage grows larger they shade the onion bulbs, keeping the soil cool and moist. The leaves may also deter onion maggots from finding the onion crop.

Other Combinations:

Lettuce and broccoli, mesclun and tomato, Brussels sprouts with radishes or beets, corn and beans, tomato and lettuce, carrot with beet, lettuce and kale, radish and artichokes or squash, tomato and basil, arugula with tomato, pole beans or trellised cucumbers, bush beans between tomatoes, peppers or eggplant, leeks and cilantro, winter squash with corn, corn and lettuce.