After my post about interplanting, I trialed the most intensive interplanting we have done to date. I wanted to push the limits of interplanting so I could gain a strong understanding of which foods grow well together and how close is too close. When the plants were young and tender, it looked adorable, daresay underplanted. Well, it got hot and sunny and stuff grew! Here’s an update about what I planted and how it went.
In our first planted bed with our super early cabbage and romanesco broccoli, I interplanted beets between the cabbage and romanesco as well as between some other cauliflower. The cabbage - beets - romanesco - beets - cauliflower interplanting had at least 24” between brassicas; the beets were planted equidistant between the cabbage and cauliflower.
Additionally, I tucked head lettuce in between our broccoli transplants and in between other cabbages. Some head lettuce was interplanted between our broccoli, which were planted at a spacing of 24” apart in an X pattern; five broccoli were interplanted with 8 heads of lettuce spaced approximately 10” apart.
In our second planted bed with our second succession of brassicas, I interplanted more beets in between most of the cabbages as well as some of the broccoli. Any extra lettuce that didn’t fit in the first bed were also spaced in line with the cabbage rows or tucked between broccoli or cauliflower transplants. I also spaced the cabbages closer than usual, so they were 18-24” apart rather than 24-30” apart, with two head lettuces between those. Yeah, I know, that’s a lot of food in one spot. What was I thinking?
Food for Thought
On the upside, the beets + cauliflower were absolutely perfectly spaced. I spaced the cauliflower rows a good 24”-30” apart and the beets went in between. Cauliflower as you may know grows more upright than cabbage or broccoli, and thus allowed light to penetrate down to the beets below. The beets never got as tall as the cauliflower, but the spacing was wide enough that they all had their own light and I didn't seem like they were overcrowded. This was a big success and I will continue this interplanting layout in the future.
Another win was the red romaine + broccoli planting. I loved this. I loved it so much I didn’t want to harvest it. I find the first few harvests so hard, that moment when you have to take a knife to this landscape art. At the end of the day, the garden is a dynamic work of art, and once I got in the groove of harvesting, I’ve been able to move past that momentary resistance when I had to cut my first red lettuce head out of my perfectly planted broccoli stand.
Contrast those successes to the beets between the cabbages in the second bed. Two things of note are that I spaced the rows 24” apart instead of 30” (which was our previous spacing) and that cabbage are floppy, widely leaved blobs of photosynthesizing goodness for most of their useful life. This wide, floppy nature was something I hadn’t exactly accounted for, until it happened. Quickly, the cabbages took off and before long their young selves were crowding together like a finely packed jar of kraut. Ah, but remember those beets I transplanted between most of the cabbage rows? Yes, well, they are still under there, somewhere, barely visible between massive cabbage leaves.
Remarkably, some of the beets in this planting grew as big as the first beet planting. A compounding factor may be that I got the second succession of beets transplanted earlier than the first, because April blizzard. Also, because they were spaced too close to the cabbages, I have been harvesting beets smaller than I normally like them. It just feels like it’s time to give the space to the cabbages, because 40 cabbages may not be enough for one family’s needs. I jest.
One of the downsides was that pretty quickly and well before maturity, in the second bed the cabbage leaves were touching. Now you may remember my rule of thumb: I believe a perfectly spaced planting won’t have leaves touch until they reach maturity. Well folks, I’ve gone and ignored my advice, in an effort to basically double-triple check what I believed to be true. And so before I harvest, I am going to take a tape measure and notebook and meticulously note which varieties spread to what diameter and get a more detailed plan for next year.
Some well-known gardeners would probably say this looks fine. But I see competition for light, and if they are competing for light, the roots down below are doing their own waltz for resources. I am going to scale back on interplanting between cabbages, while continuing to interplant lettuce with broccoli as well as beets and cauliflower. In the summer months, we will give beets their own rightful space. Then we can assess how well they do interplanted versus open grown. So far I know my open grown beets are always larger than what I have harvested via interplanting.
I know to some, perhaps many, the overplanted look might feel lush, but it’s an open invitation and breeding ground for disease and pests to take up residence. And, if you read my last post you know we had an onslaught of slugs munching on our food this past month, and I am certain that plant spacing was a contributing factor to their downright success in our garden.
Lettuce makes a great interplanted crop, between just about anything. It matures quickly and doesn’t need full sun to thrive. Beets, I believe, should be interplanted carefully. Interplanting in general I believe calls for a more spacious main planting. If you plant at the ‘recommended’ spacing, it may be too tight with a crop like beets to successfully mature to its fullest potential.
If you have the space, my recommendation is to limit interplantings to fast maturing crops like lettuce and radish. If you are space limited, plant crops that don’t take up a lot of square footage but produce for an extended period of time. In the end, you know best and growing what you love to eat homegrown should always be at the top of your list.