Gardening season is off to a slow start this year in my part of the world, as March has been an uncharacteristically cold and wet month. And so, instead of cultivating my garden, I've been cultivating my ideas about how I want to sow and plant this year. There are several strategies that one can take when starting a new garden, and I've decided to take an intercropping approach, following principles of permaculture and biodynamic agriculture.
Intercropping means growing one or more crops in the same space during the same growing season, in order to imitate the diversity of natural ecosystems. The idea here is that by creating biodiversity, the different resources of the soil are better utilized, and the chances of single pest outbreaks are limited by a habitat where pest management happens naturally. A garden where biodiversity is maintained doesn't have the neat look that most of us associate with successful gardening. There are no individual crops growing in long rows, but a varied mixture of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits, carefully selected and planted according to specific principles. Here are a few of the key ones:
To favor the healthy growth of a complex habitat, it’s important to select plants that don't compete with each other for space, nutrients, water and sunlight. Sow crops together that have opposite needs: shallow-rooted plants with deep-rooted ones, slow-growing crops with fast-growing ones, tall plants with short ones that like partial shade, and so on.
Another important practice is to companion plant, growing different species of plants together that benefit each other. There are several lists of companion plants available online (for example here and here), though there are some discrepancies, and so – as always with gardening – the best strategy is trial and error.
Here is a little list I've created for my own needs. If anyone has tried companion planting, please pipe up in the comments and tell us about your experiences.
peas, beans, parsley
marigolds, basil, geraniums, sunflowers
peas, potatoes, cucumbers
borage, beans, lettuce
strawberries, carrots, chamomile
tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers
peas, onions, rosemary, sage, marjoram
corn, radishes, lettuce, beans