Intensive Successive Companions

Kale, Radish, Carrots, Parsnips, Dill, and Cilantro

Kale, Radish, Carrots, Parsnips, Dill, and Cilantro

We use a strategy called “intensive successive companions” to design the plantings in our gardens. 

This method enables the gardener to achieve the maximum production of the widest variety of produce from the smallest possible space, with the least amount of work, and the least amount of inputs to the garden.  Every square inch of three-dimensional garden space is utilized; and not just space, but growing time. 

With “intensive successive companions”, one person, working alone, can grow an astounding volume of vegetables, herbs, and fruit, on a modest space.  And the garden can stay in cultivation throughout the year delivering continual waves of fresh produce.

The Opposite of a Monoculture

“Intensive successive companion planting” is a gardening strategy.  The opposite of this strategy is planting in a monoculture.  In a monoculture, the goal is to sterilize the field, or garden space, and grow only one selected crop in each segregated area.  Generally, monoculture farms and gardens require chemical herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides to make them work.  This unsustainable strategy defines large-scale corporate farming.

Kale, Radish,Cilantro, Collards, Mustard, Cabbage, Lettuces, and Queen Anne's Lace

Kale, Radish,Cilantro, Collards, Mustard, Cabbage, Lettuces, and Queen Anne’s Lace

Intensive successive companion planting harnesses the power of nature and channels it into the garden.  This method continually improves the health and bio-diversity of the soil.  These gardens require less water; over time, the gardener can cut irrigation by fifty to eighty percent.

Beneficial predators love these lush gardens.  They hunt continually among the plants and cleanse the garden of pests.  Intensive successive companion planting is the key reason we never have to use chemical pesticides in our gardens.  Chemicals only hurt a healthy garden.  

Breaking down Each Component

For new gardeners, this method can seem complicated at first.  However, once you break down each component, and see how it works in the garden, the method becomes completely clear.  Here is a broad description of the components, with more to follow in future posts.

Various Lettuces and Spinach, Intensively planted

Various Lettuces and Spinach, Intensively planted

Intensive Planting

Intensive planting is a very close spacing of plants, closer than typically recommended in planting guides.  The leaves of the plants grow together and overlap, which makes a “canopy” over the garden.  This canopy creates a “micro-climate” beneath the foliage, which maximizes irrigation, dew, and natural insulation.  The canopy shades or chokes out weeds and provides protection for beneficial predators, to allow them to hunt continually in the garden, a critically important aspect of chemical-free gardening.

Successive Planting

Successive planting allows for plant production in waves, or stages.  A simple succession is to plant the same vegetable two weeks apart, so that it does not all ripen at once, but over a longer period.  Another aspect of successive planting, also called relay planting, is to plant a seed or transplant where a mature plant was just harvested, so that as space is made in the garden, new plants are introduced, to maintain a continual production.

Successive planting is also accomplished by planting various different plants at the same time in the same space, in such a way that each plant grows at a different rate and height and width.  As one plant matures and is harvested or cut back, the next plant matures, and so on, to maximize the three-dimensional space of the garden.     

Kayla picking beans and sweet corn from a summer garden

Kayla picking beans and sweet corn from a summer garden

Companion Planting

Companion planting is planting two or more plants together, who benefit from the presence of the other.  Every plant—every vegetable, herb, fruit, and flower—grows better when planted in the right combination with other plants.  The combinations serve many functions:  some plants fertilize each other as they grow, some protect others from pests or disease, or provide shade or structure or support.  Companion planting dramatically increases biodiversity in the soil.  Companion planting attracts the widest variety and greatest numbers of beneficial predators to the garden.

The best example of companion planting is “the three sisters“, which is corns, beans, and squash, grown in the Native American method.  Each of these vegetables grows better when planted with the others, rather than segregated.  Not only that, by companion planting these vegetables, gardeners can grow three to five times more produce on the same garden space.  With good companion planting, yields of every single garden crop can be improved.

4 responses

    • Hello Luis! It is great to hear from you! I hope you and your family are doing well!

      No garden is too small for companion planting. You can effectively companion plant in pots on the porch. For a backyard garden, I love the idea of 100 square foot units. That is a 20 foot row, five feet wide, which is perfect. A garden of this size is very easy to start and maintain, and one person in a few hours per week can grow a lot of produce on this space. As gardening skills increase, the gardener can simply add more rows and have a lot of fun with the garden.

      My gardens average 2,000 square feet, and I manage three or four gardens at a time, or more, working by myself, with help from my better half. We are able to help feed a lot of families in our community from these small gardens. Thanks Luis, hope to see you soon!

    • Hi Agi! We are enjoying 80 degree days this week, and blue skies. I am guessing you guys are still having a little snow up in Vermont? We just met a chef from Vermont, who told us of the wonderful farms in your part of the country. My wife and I have Vermont on our list of future vacation spots! Maybe we will see your garden some day! Thanks so much Agi!

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