More adventures in interplanting

I’ve been leading the vegetable team at the Derwood Demo Garden since 2008, and the garden’s been through a lot of changes in that time. At first, we were able to expand our territory considerably, with increasing numbers of volunteers to clear weedy areas at the periphery. But recently, since we’ve added a small fruit team, the 100-square-foot garden, and this year’s expanded straw bale garden:

(we call it Taj-Ma-Straw)

there is less territory for straight-up vegetable gardening. Which is all to the good, because it forces me to think about more efficient and flexible use of space. We learn from the intensive planting teams, and replicate on a larger scale.

One example has been the cabbage bed. I got a little enthusiastic about cabbages this year (mostly because I could start them nice and early inside) and filled up an area about 6 by 10 feet with them in March. Then, in May, we started planting summer crops, and I realized that I had basically no room left anywhere for peppers. The answer – plant them between the cabbages!

We actually had to take out every other cabbage (not heading up yet, but still edible) to plant the peppers, and in a week the remaining cabbages had grown enough that we had to take out a few more and trim outer leaves on many of the rest, to allow enough sun and water to reach the peppers (and a few eggplants). Next week we should see the cabbages either heading up or otherwise ready to come out, so we can remove the row cover from the peppers (we’ll probably leave a smaller one over the eggplants, against flea beetles).

I’ve also planted bitter gourd and Armenian cucumber in the middle of one tangle of pea vines, and am planning to set zucchini among another. In general we’re using every bit of space we have – including this lovely cover crop of phacelia that’s been waiting on a delivery of sweet potato slips:

Sweet potatoes should go in next week, and we will only need to cut the phacelia plants back right before planting, since the slips will go into a high pile of compost set into an oval of hardware cloth, not directly into the ground. Meanwhile, the bees are buzzing around those flowers.

In my own community garden plot, I’ve been starting summer crops like cucumbers and squash right into the middle of lettuce and radishes, and earlier in the spring I sowed beets and chard in between imagined tomato plants, which have now taken the places I left for them.

In the next bed over, I’m starting sweet potatoes in between cabbages and other greens. And if I can manage it, I’ll put fall greens in the tomato bed – the trick is keeping them covered against the inevitable harlequin bugs until I can take out the tomatoes and put up a big tunnel to keep the greens protected when it gets cold. I’ll also be adding lots of compost as I go along, to keep all those crops fed.

Interplanting is a good exercise in planning and imagination, and it’s satisfying to see the garden used to its full capacity.

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