What Is A Catch Crop?
Maximise Growing Space With A Catch Crop
When you want to get more vegetables from the growing space that you have you need to be a bit cunning. I double the amount of vegetables that I can grow in my allotment by growing catch crops. It's really easy to do once you understand the principle and well worth it it terms of the rewards.
In a nutshell, what you do is sow a quick growing vegetable alongside a slow growing vegetable in the same space. The trick is to find compatible plants that have similar cultural needs but mature at different times.
I'm practising catch cropping in my vegetable garden and I've found more than one benefit to the system. Take a look at the photos of the catch crops in my vegetable garden and see if it's something you could do in your garden too.
All images by Greenspirit
Multiple Catch Cropping In My Garden In Spring - There are lots of different catch crops sharing the same planting bed here.
This is the runner bean bed in my garden. Early, every spring it gets a 2 foot deep trench dug right down the middle which is then half filled with horse manure and covered over again. This is where the beans and their canes go once the soil warms up and all chance of frost is over.
This bed is always very fertile because of the annual manuring and gets regularly watered in summer to keep the beans happy, so I tend to inter crop a lot in this spot. In this picture you can see young lettuces growing between the beans.
Once the runner beans get mature there won't be any room between them for lettuce, but they will provide some shade for a close sown row of baby spinach alongside them in high summer.
Currently this area, which measures 3m x 1m hosts runner beans, chives, nasturtiums, lettuce, baby leeks and some yet to emerge coriander. When the beans pass over in autumn, I'll sow a green manure that can be dug in next spring when I redo the trench again. That's intensive catch cropping for you!
Great Seeds To Grow Together As A Catch Crop
Runner beans and lettuce make a great cropping partnership because they both prefer good rich soil, moisture and sun. It's safe to put out lettuce much earlier in the season than runner beans, so as soon as I've got the bean trench dug, manured and filled back in, I plant young lettuce seedlings from the greenhouse along the bed.
Once this lettuce crop is harvested there should be time for one more lettuce sowing. So on a one foot wide strip it is possible to grow a crop of runner beans, two crops of lettuce, and quite a few other things alongside.
I find Romaine lettuce really easy to grow, and much better flavoured than the floppy leaved Webbs Wonder types.
It definitely stands the colder night temperatures of spring, and copes with dry hot spells in mid summer much better than many other lettuce types.
'Scarlet Emperor is an old and much loved variety of runner bean because it always gives a really generous crop of tasty runner beans without fail.
These beans freeze well, but if you want to try your hand at exhibiting, or going in for the biggest / longest bean competition, this is a good variety to grow.
The bean pods can get quite large and long, and still be good to eat. They do have that stringy bit down the sides, unlike some modern varieties, but the flavour is good. That outweighs for me, and a lot of other growers, the effort you need to make in topping, tailing and stripping off the side string before cooking.
Are You Getting The Most Out Of Your Garden Space?
Do you catch crop in your garden?
Rocket In The Strawberry Bed
I've planted a new strawberry bed this spring. (If you would like to see how I did this you can go to Strawberry Growing where I have described the process in detail with photos.)
I bought twelve bare rooted strawberry plants that filled just half of my planned strawberry bed because I know these plants will produce enough baby plants by the end of this summer to fill the whole bed.
So in the meantime I have empty space. There's no point in planting anything permanent there, or any a crop that stands in the ground over winter because I want to plant the baby strawberry plants there in their final places before winter sets in.
I'm growing a catch crop of rocket in the empty space. It's a quick and easy crop, and I won't feel bad about discarding it in a few months time. (You can see in the picture here where one baby strawberry is already developing on a runner and looking for a bit of earth to settle in.)
Growing Rocket And Strawberries - Rocket as a catch crop
This is the peppery tasting type of rocket. It germinates quickly and needs little looking after.
Rocket seems to grow almost anywhere; It self seeds in the hot dry gravel of my greenhouse, and grows quite happily in semi shaded beds outside too.
The main thing it needs is regular picking, otherwise it starts to send up its little yellow flowers on tough, stringy stems, and then it's not so good to eat. If that does happen, just cut it to the ground, water it, and with good luck it will come right back up again.
These are bare rooted plants, which is by far the best and cheapest way to buy strawberry plants.
Although it says they can be dispatched at anytime, bare rooted plants need to be planted in the cool times of the year like spring and autumn. You need to order them to fit in with the weather and seasons of your particular region.
Plants Benefit From Catch Cropping - There's more than one reason for planting different crops together.
- Eliminating bare earth between young plants by growing something in the gaps keeps the soil cool in summer and helps reduce water evaporation.
- Densely planted rows and blocks seem less prone to predation by birds and insects.
- Some plants have a beneficial effect on each other when grown together. This is called companion planting.
- Some plants seem to improve the health of other plants when planted close by.
- Plants seem to flourish better when growing in a community. It could be because of the reasons above, but I think that they also like company, just like us.
Not A Cache Crop Exactly, But A Growing Combination Not To Be Missed - Basil and tomatoes in the greenhouse
Nothing smells like summer in the greenhouse and kitchen garden than the smell of basil and tomatoes on a hot day. When I stand and just breathe that perfume into my lungs I feel that all's right with the world.
Growing basil with tomatoes is not a cache crop as such, but growing it amongst tomato plants definitely improves the amount of fruit produced, so I thought I add it in for good measure.
If you look at the bottom of the picture you can just see the basil leaves at the bottom of the tomato plants.
Tomatoes and Basil; Perfect Companion Plants!
Cherry tomatoes are probably the easiest of all tomatoes to grow. No pruning, or tweaking necessary; you just let them do their thing and provide them with some kind of supports to climb up and round.
And then you have those incredibly sweet, bite sized fruits. Try them straight from the plant all warm from the sun, there's nothing better.
Gazpacho, pesto, mozzarella salads...you have to grow Basil. I start mine off in deep polystyrene seed trays and then plant out amongst other vegetables once they are sturdy enough.
You have to mind the snails though, they really love Basil!
Amazing intercropping in China, and other sites talking about catch crops - There's lots of ways to expand catch cropping in the garden and on a global scale
When a friend of mine heard I was writing on catch cropping, he pointed out an amazing intercropping project in China, where carp are reared in paddy fields. The principle goes something like this:
Carp lay eggs on the stems of the rice plants in flooded paddy fields.
Eggs hatch, and the fry (baby fish) flourish in the paddy field water.
All carp feed on the rotting leaves of the rice plants.
Plankton grows in the plant rich, fish rich water.
Carp excretia feeds and fertilizes the rice crop.
Makes my rocket and strawberries sound pretty tame! (link for study below)
If you want to read more deeply into this subject, there are some in depth articles that examine many more combinations of plants, and methods for maximising produce from the garden. Here are a few that I found:
- Integrated Carp Farming in Asian Country
A paper by V. R. P. Sinha Regional Lead Centre in India Fishwater Aquaculture Research and Training Centre of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research Dhauli, Bhubaneswar
- Growing Spaces
Early season catch crops
- Seed Parade
Intercropping and catch cropping
- Surrey Home And Garden
Go organic with catch crops