The Idiot Gardener

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Intercropping: The highs and lows of bed-sharing!

You’ve all been there; the traffic is at a standstill, it’s bloody hot, and you need to pee. Then you see a side street, angling roughly in the direction you want to go. There’s even a signpost with the name of the place you need to reach on it. No one else is taking it. Why? It seems so obvious, but the other fools can’t see it. You grab the moment like a greedy child, ease forward and then floor the pedal. The waiting traffic sniffs your dust as you escape the wait.

Now you’re laughing at those bloody idiots. Why didn’t they take the road? Fools. You laugh and shout it from your open window. FOOLS! Then you reach a junction. The road you need is closed, and there’s a diversion. Okay, it might take a few more minutes, but what the hell? After all, you’re not sitting there waiting like those other morons!

Eventually the diversion leads you to a main road. The traffic is snarled up. Then you remember something; you were here an hour ago! You’re in the same queue that you escaped, but now you’re about two milers further back than when you escaped.

What do you mean, it never happened to you? Liar.

When I first pulled on my Idiot hat and declared that I was going to garden, a lot of folks smiled, applauded and patted me on my moronic head. I read books and made plans. Then I created the great crop plan, including intercropping. I’d read about it but never done it. It made sense; it was obvious to me. Many people questioned whether I was a real gardener posing as an idiot, because I had decided upon intercropping. I couldn’t work out why, because every “basics for beginners” book mentioned it. It was obvious. Why didn’t everyone intercrop?

I didn’t care, because I knew best! I didn’t waste time to question why so many established gardeners didn’t intercrop. I didn’t ask why people thought it the step of a more established gardener. No, I just floored the pedal and zoomed off into a whole bunch of problems of my own making.

Now, when you look at the photograph at the start of this, it shows good intercropping. The rocket is getting close to being ready for cut and come again use, and the swedes are just poking through, ready to take the extra space. By the time they need the room, the rocket will be gone. Idiot Gardener? Perish the thought. Of course, that’s only one side of the story. It’s my only bit of intercropping that worked! The other side of the story is much darker!

Now, here’s a picture of when intercropping goes bad!

Two of my ‘favourite crops’ are parsnips and mooli radish. Obviously, I mean favourite in things I like to eat, because I’ve grown neither before. I accepted that both took a longer time to mature, so marked them down for intecropping. The parsnips went with summer radish, and the mooli with watercress.

The summer radishes were off and running, leaving the parsnips behind. All went well until one morning I couldn’t find the parsnips. A canopy of radish leaves had covered over the parsnip seedlings. This wasn’t good, and I found myself snipping off radish leaves to give the parsnips some light. The more I snipped, the faster they grew back. The situation got worse and worse. Now I am forced to eat all my radishes quickly to allow the parsnips light! Intercropping result; failure!

The watercress seemingly grew well, strong and green and vibrant. It started to take over, and I feared that the mooli would be crowded out, just like the parsnips. I even bought more mooli seeds, just in case. I realised that I had to eat the watercress quickly to prevent another intercropping failure.

I tasted the watercress, but it was bland, slightly bitter. It was nothing like watercress. I had no option but to let it grow more to develop some taste. I also noted that it didn’t look like watercress; in fact it was pretty similar to the radish leaves.

Yes, it’s obvious now, but I just kept on bumbling down the wrong road. I tasted my land cress planted elsewhere, and it tasted of watercress. I tasted my watercress, and it still tasted bitter. This was despite the watercress being so much bigger.

The watercress leaves were now crowding out what I figured must be the mooli; funnily enough the mooli had leaves that looked just like watercress. So, here was my dilemma. My watercress was growing wild, stopping light getting to my mooli. The watercress looked like radish leaves, but the mooli, lacking light, had leaves that looked like watercress. What’s more, the whole lot was now encroaching on my salsify.

Tasting the alleged mooli leaves was like a bullet to the brain. I knew instantly that it was really watercress. I’d badly screwed up, and I knew it was obvious. Still, you wanted idiocy…

So, this is the intercropping situation. The rocket/swede combination has worked, to a degree. The ong choy/turnip combination is seeing the turnip leaves smother the ong choy. The summer radishes need to be eaten quickly to give the parsnips light, and the mooli is smothering the watercress and the salsify.

Now I understand why so few people intercrop. Will I be doing it next year? Probably not. But then again…

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14 thoughts on “Intercropping: The highs and lows of bed-sharing!

  1. Nutty Gnome

    Ha ha ha! It’s very reassuring to see someone else mess up with intercropping, just like I did when I first started!!!
    Mind you, my sweetcorn, courgette and squash intercropping does seem to be working this year ….and might just make it harder for the foxes to snaffle the corn cobs!

  2. Urban Dirt Girl

    You’d think that once they’d got in bed together being tall or small wouldn’t matter. 🙂 Alas, you’ve lived and you’ve learned. Maybe its time to go square vs rows. I got a book about square foot gardenin. You might be able to get it over there. Not tried it yet though so……

  3. Turling

    Might I suggest labels in the ground? Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a label within 50 meters of my lot. Although, it’s much more entertaining your way.

  4. The Idiot Gardener

    Nutty Gnome, I suppose it does help if you know how the plants will grow before intercropping them. It all seemed so easy in theory!

    UDG, I’ve looked at the whole “square foot” thing. I think the problems with intercropping would be the same, though.

    Turling, my good man, I have labels, but such tools are lost on me once I have more than one plantage in the same area!

  5. Bangchik

    Intercropping should be fun… to break the monotony of plants and to add color and a little bit of design elements in gardening…. Underestimating the spread of a particular plant will submerge a few, struggling for space to grow and breath. ~bangchik

  6. Is the Wiz

    Intercropping was fine in the olden days of growing in widely spaced rows, but we plant more densely now in raised beds. I think the radish/parsnip mix should be in the same, not alternating rows, the idea being that the radish seedlings mark the row of slow to germinate parsnips and make weeding easier. Do I bother? Do I *******

  7. Annie's Granny

    Been there, done that. Even after fifty-plus years of gardening, I still screw it up. Last year I planted lettuce to the east of the parsnips, figuring the parsnips would give the lettuce the shade it needed to survive the summer. Who knew the parsnips would grow so tall and flop over so much that they’d smother out all my lovely lettuces? It taught me one lesson. My garden is just too small for growing parsnips. We live and learn, even if it takes us fifty years or more to get it right.

  8. ~Gardener on Sherlock Street

    Been there! Even though I’ve had it happen, I still try it again when I’m trying to squeeze just a little more into the garden. One year of a dismal kohlrabi crop cured me of putting them to close to something taller.

  9. Damo

    Other than throwing a few radishes around the slow growing brassicas I don’t normally bother with intercropping as I’m sure I’d get it wrong!

  10. Meredith

    Welcome to the ranks of veggie gardeners who try stuff too advanced for them. 😉 When surveying my failures, I repeatedly console myself with the thought, “How else will I learn what works?”

    I love that you’re so gung-ho and willing to try it all, IG. That enthusiasm is so important for keeping you going past the experiments that don’t pan out!

  11. Kyna

    Damn it. My image of you has been shattered.

    I thought you were an intercropping virtuoso.

    Now I see you’re just a buffoon that thinks mooli is watercress, and watercress is mooli.

    Thank God you’re hilarious. And I have no idea what mooli is. So this non-mooli-eatin-mofo forgives you 🙂

  12. Amy

    Never been there. I just intercrop tomatoes with my lantana and blanketflower. I’m a newbie at this veggie stuff. For some reason, I doubted the whole thing, but to my surprise the tomatoes are really good. I believe you know more than I do about intercropping and veggie growing, so who is the idiot? I would never claim to be…my mom/dad were good parents. :)hehe

  13. upinak

    OMG I love your blog.

    But intercropping isn’t hard, when you learn from your mistakes. *wink*

    Celery loves everyone.
    Dill hates everything.
    Marigolds are your friends.
    Peppers just like it hot.
    Tomatoes like to be close to one another.
    Potatoes hate their cousins.
    Lettuce and cabbage hate each other.
    Broccli loves cauliflower, from a distance.
    carrots love radishes.
    kahlrobi love (brussel) sprouts.

    Parley and Peppers have a bond.
    Sage love everyone.
    Rosemary wants to be the “ONE” and only.
    Mint loves mint, loves peppermint, love mint. I call it the self loving herb myself.

    Suggestion…. make up little haiku’s about your garden veggies and who hates/loves growing around each other. Easy way to learn and remember.

  14. Kimmi

    Well, I’m glad you tried it because now I won’t. Not yet, anyway. I had seen several articles insisting it was simple, but now I don’t believe them! Good luck riding out the storm.


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