Often kids’ gardens at home or at school are cramped for space. We all want to grow much more than we have room for in the garden. This can make for some hard decisions. One way to help your kids get creative about saving space and growing more in their vegetable garden is to teach them about intercropping. Intercropping is a growing technique in which you use plants’ natural growth habits to your advantage. It means pairing plants with compatible growing needs close together in a way that allows both to thrive. Here are some way to introduce intercropping into your child’s garden:
- The Right Match: Pair together plants that are compatible. For example, explain that large-growing, warm-season plants, such as tomatoes and eggplant, often grow slowly in spring. They need to be spaced a few feet apart to accommodate their eventual growth. Plant fast-growing, cool-weather-loving plants, such as mesclun mix and lettuce, in between the large plants. Explain to your kids that by the time the large plants get big and shade the area between plants, the greens will be harvested.
- Veggies Helping Each Other: Another way to intercrop to is grow veggies together that help one another grow. Explain to kids that some vegetables are fast germinators, while others germinate slowly in the soil. For example, by mixing and matching radishes with carrots, you’ll help both crops. The radishes germinate quickly, breaking up the soil and helping the slower-growing carrots, which will germinate a littler later. When you harvest the fast-growing radishes, you create more space for the carrots to grow in later.
- Finding Room for Veggies: Intercropping can also happen with trees and vegetables. Dwarf trees, such as crabapple and peach, often have an open canopy for better growth. They will let enough light to the ground to allow you to grow shade-tolerant vegetables and edible flowers, such as kale and pansies. Ask your kids to identify any places around the yard or school where you can intercrop some of these edibles under existing trees.