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What Is A Catch Crop?

Updated on August 30, 2017

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.

Butterhead Buttercrunch Lettuce Seeds Certified Organic
Butterhead Buttercrunch Lettuce Seeds Certified Organic

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 Runner Pole Bean Seeds - 25 grams
Scarlet Emperor Runner Pole Bean Seeds - 25 grams

'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

Arugula Certified Organic Heirloom Seeds 200 Seeds
Arugula Certified Organic Heirloom Seeds 200 Seeds

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.

 
Evie 25 Everbearing Bare Root Strawberry Plants
Evie 25 Everbearing Bare Root Strawberry Plants

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!

Seeds of Change 06075 Certified Organic Tomato, Red Cherry
Seeds of Change 06075 Certified Organic Tomato, Red Cherry

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.

 
Large Leaf Italian Basil Heirloom Seeds
Large Leaf Italian Basil Heirloom Seeds

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:

What Are Your Thoughts On Catch Cropping

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    • PlumberJorge profile image

      PlumberJorge 

      5 years ago

      This lens is as green as ever.

    • profile image

      khangorion 

      5 years ago

      I love trees green

    • JenaleeMortensen profile image

      JenaleeMortensen 

      5 years ago

      I've planted peas early in the spring in the spot that I plan to plant tomatoes in the last part of May. Usually the peas are ready for harvest before the tomatoes are ready to be planted if I planted the peas early enough. I appreciate learning more about what to plant together. I hadn't heard the term Catch Cropping before, so I came to see what it is and I'm glad I visited.

    • profile image

      jura 

      5 years ago

      Gardening is my hobby I like some of the ideas .

    • lewisgirl profile image

      lewisgirl 

      5 years ago

      Nice lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      This is very interesting and useful post. I received from here many information.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Great lens, never thought of mixing crops before. Good idea

    • profile image

      gamingprotips 

      5 years ago

      This is especially applicable to me because we just have some small garden spacing on our terracing. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until next year to use this.

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 

      5 years ago

      Great information! Thanks for sharing it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      excellent lens. Thanks for this useful information sharing with us.

    • profile image

      Jazzk257 

      5 years ago

      great lens.

    • tobydavis profile image

      tobydavis 

      5 years ago

      Really interesting read. I'm doing a lot of research into growing my own vegetables and this is really useful.

    • tok2gman profile image

      tok2gman 

      5 years ago

      Great subject and a great lens! Thanks for sharing.

    • LauraCarExpert profile image

      LauraCarExpert 

      5 years ago

      Very informative lens, I might try this out.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      5 years ago from Colorado

      This is a key concept of permaculture. The more I learn, the more I wish to grow things that partner well. Looks like you really have a green thumb. Those plants are thriving. Congrats on your feature!

    • profile image

      Snakesmum 

      5 years ago

      Sounds like a good idea to me, and when Spring comes, I'll try it.

    • weakbond profile image

      Nnadi bonaventure Chima 

      5 years ago from Johanesburg

      Highly informative lens ,thanks for sharing

    • greenspirit profile imageAUTHOR

      poppy mercer 

      5 years ago from London

      @Carol Houle: Yes I learnt that too. Nice big spaces between the rows they said. It was a revelation when I started closing up the gaps.

    • greenspirit profile imageAUTHOR

      poppy mercer 

      5 years ago from London

      @DebMartin: Maybe it comes from the other uses of it like catch a ride, catch your breath or catch the moment? Sort of catching an opportunity when it arises. Nice question...I always like to think where words and expressions come from.

    • profile image

      DebMartin 

      5 years ago

      It's interesting. And I can see where it would be very helpful for small spaces. Or even for bigger spaces where you might want one plant to shade another or some other reasons for growing two plants together. I'm curious. Excuse me if I missed it in the reading. Where did the term "catch" crop come from? It's new to me. Thanks

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 

      5 years ago from Montreal

      I like it, especially the basil and tomato combo, however I was taught by my elders not to mix or crowd the plants, and absolutely no flowers or weeds. Hoe Hoe Hoe

      Your Catch Cropping interests me much. Thanks

    • profile image

      laurenrich 

      5 years ago

      Great information. I found the ideas very useful and will try them. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      5 years ago from Vermont

      I also use succession planting to maximize the garden space. Our garlic (planted last October) is nearly ready to harvest. When it's out we'll plant beans and spinach for fall.

    • profile image

      natureadventure 

      5 years ago

      I do grow an organic vegetables for my family consumption, and great idea is shared in this lens, Thanks and Congrats for being a LOtD!!

    • profile image

      TheDeeperWell 

      5 years ago

      We used to call this companion gardening. I have my basil growing with my tomatoes right now, with a marigold or two nearby.

    • profile image

      philipcaddick 

      5 years ago

      some wonderful ideas, thanks for this. I shall need to continue to refer to this lens.

    • Mommy-Bear profile image

      Mommy-Bear 

      5 years ago

      I love home grown food. The only thing is it quite often doesn't make it as far as dinner. We ate all the peas I grew last year straight from the plant but they were delicious.

    • MJ Martin profile image

      MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose 

      5 years ago from Washington State

      congratulations on LOTD! Your lens taught me many things about gardening, that I thought were always too hard to try. Not now, thanks!

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      5 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Loved reading this lens. Thanks for sharing!

    • ValerieJoy profile image

      Valerie Smith 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      Congratulations on LotD. You make Catch Cropping look like a great way to grow vegetables.

    • clevergirlname profile image

      clevergirlname 

      5 years ago

      Great, colorful lens! Congrats - very deserved! Pinned as well :)

    • Mary Stephenson profile image

      Mary Stephenson 

      5 years ago from California

      Congratulations on LOTD. I used to do a lot of gardening but have not for awhile. Everything tastes better right from the garden. There were times I would go out in the middle of the garden and just pick green beans, tomatoes and peas and eat dinner right there. No cooking, no plates, nothing to clean up. Or eat apricots and plums right of the tree.

    • profile image

      glassgaragedoors 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for posting, I had no idea they were called catch crops. Your veggies look really good and healthy!

    • slpsharon profile image

      slpsharon 

      5 years ago

      Great idea.

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 

      5 years ago

      A well deserved LotD - pinned as well so more folks will see it!

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 

      5 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! I give you a lot of credit growing all these edibles. And what do I know ... I always called it cash crop ;-)

    • carol2 profile image

      carol2 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for this incentive to grow more in the space I have - I can hardly wait to get started. Congratulations on getting LotD.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 

      5 years ago

      This is an excellent idea. Thank you for publishing this lens. I hope many people use it. - Congratulations on receiving the LOTD.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      5 years ago from USA

      Since I grow both tomatoes and basil it would save space by growing it together. Thanks for the info. Congratulations on LotD.

    • profile image

      jura 

      5 years ago

      I love gardening great lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Great tips for the garden especially when working with a small area. Congrats on the LOTD!

    • chi kung profile image

      chi kung 

      5 years ago

      it's a fantastic way to make use of space - when I'll have a garden, I'll use it!

    • kislanyk profile image

      Marika 

      5 years ago from Cyprus

      Awesome lens, very informative and love your pictures. Btw congrats on the LOTD, just noticed now.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I no longer garden, but from previous experience I know your tips and ideas are sound. Congratulations on LOTD, well done!

    • Grangermdk profile image

      Grangermdk 

      5 years ago

      Thank you so much, I learned an incredible amount of new strategies from your lens, great stuff!

    • HappyTom LM profile image

      Tom Christen 

      5 years ago from Switzerland/Ecuador

      A very nice lens! Thank you very much for sharing! I love gardening too, I have many Bonsais, Cactus and Banana trees. I also always do experiments with seeds from fruits, like that I already grew up Papaya, Pineapple (ok that was not a seed ;), but it worked ), Avocado, Watermelon and Pumpkin.

      Keep going!

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      Beautiful garden and useful information! Congratulations on your LotD! All the buttons are missing at the top or I would've tweeted it. Fortunately, I did spy the thumbs up icon just to the left above...so I was at least able to give you a Like!

    • profile image

      trinimatt 

      5 years ago

      Great lens, very interesting

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Great way to grow in a small space for the home gardener.

    • Raymond Eagar profile image

      Raymond Eagar 

      5 years ago

      I have lots of space and do not need to do it but it is a good idea I like it .

    • KnitnPurlGirl profile image

      KnitnPurlGirl 

      5 years ago

      A very interesting lens. Congrats on LOTD!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      5 years ago from Concord VA

      Catch cropping sounds like a great idea to me. Congratulations on LotD! :)

    • SquidooMBA profile image

      SquidooMBA 

      5 years ago

      Looks like a very efficient way to garden and grow healthy foods. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Bercton1 profile image

      Bercton1 

      5 years ago

      It have so much benefits especially the organic advantage. Great lens and very informative!

    • profile image

      hmommers 

      5 years ago

      How clever! And congrats on the LotD.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Love this catch cropping thing! .. and so true, there is nothing like the fragrance of tomato and fresh basil.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Even if you have a lot of space this makes sense as it definitely helps in the production of better crops and companion planting can help reduce the bugs and diseases too! Well deserved LOTD and nicely written lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      very good idea. thanks

    • DreyaB profile image

      DreyaB 

      5 years ago from France

      Really enjoyed your lens, congrats on the LoTD. We're currently growing tomatoes and basil together as companion planting. :)

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 

      5 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Many congratulations on LOTD! Thanks for sharing your experiences with catch cropping.

    • marktplaatsshop profile image

      marktplaatsshop 

      5 years ago

      Congratulations, on LotD, this looks fun doing, I am going to try it, thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Currently in my greenhouse I have salad leaves that are finishing and they are around the bases of the tomato plants that are now setting their fruits. I make sure I feed well to make up for the goodness that the salad leaves have taken. However I had never thought of growing basil in the greenhouse with the Toms - so definitely something for me to try.

      And congratulations on receiving Squidoo Lens of the Day :)

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      5 years ago from Europe

      That's a great idea, I struggle to make the most of my tiny garden with pots and hanging baskets. Maxing out with catch crops could give me some extra salad as I go. Thanks

    • k4shmir profile image

      k4shmir 

      5 years ago

      nice lens. thanks for sharing

    • StThomasBoatRen profile image

      StThomasBoatRen 

      5 years ago

      Sweet! You make it look so easy that I think I'm going to give catch cropping a try - again.

    • profile image

      Gold2014 

      5 years ago

      Great idea: Mixing two plants with different growth rates to maximize growing space. I have grown vegetables in an apartment setting, and I believe "Catch Cropping" applied to container gardening could grow vegetables very efficiently. Thanks for the idea!

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image

      Missmerfaery444 

      5 years ago

      Back to say congratulations on winning LOTD! Very much deserved! :)

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 

      5 years ago

      This is a good idea especially for growing multiple items in the garden. I like to plant summer vegetables together because it saves on the water resources.

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image

      Missmerfaery444 

      5 years ago

      This sounds fantastic! Thank you for the helpful introduction to catch cropping, it is something I will definitely be doing in our garden next year!

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 

      5 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      am I the only one who gets excited by the prospect of catch cropping? Thanks for this, off to add some rocket to my strawberries

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      5 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      catch cropping is an interesting way of gardening, I'll need to keep that in mind once/when i have a real garden

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