Hoop-House Intercropping in Spring

Reader Contribution by Pam Dawling
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­­In our hoop house (high tunnel) in central Virginia we have three distinct vegetable crop seasons, with a couple of overlapping crops like February snap peas (harvested late April to late May), and peppers which span from April to November:

Wintercrops planted in September, October, and the first week of November. We harvest these from November to April (some spinach to May)

Early warm weather crops planted in March and early April, which we harvest from June to late July

High summer crops which we plant in July and harvest from August to October.

Here I will write about our spring hoop house transition from Season 1 to Season 2, interplanting tomatoes and other early warm weather crops (peppers, squash, cucumbers) among the remaining winter greens. When we are preparing for our fall plantings we clear the beds, add compost, broadfork and rake. But when we make the transition from winter crops to early spring crops in our high tunnel, we don’t clear whole beds. We like to keep the greens producing as long as possible, covering the Hungry Gap – the time before new spring plantings start to produce. In this case the new greens will be outdoors where it’s cooler. Intercropping (also known as interplanting and relay planting) is a good way to maximize food production from a given amount of space. And space in a hoop house is prime real estate, because growing vegetables in a hoop house is so productive!

Six steps to make the transition from winter greens to early warm weather crops, while getting lots of produce every day.

To prepare space for the incoming transplants, we harvest out the greens down the middle of the bed, leaving the rows on the sides of the beds.

The center of this hoop house chard patch has been cleared and measured out for spring tomato transplants. Photo by Wren Vile

Next we measure and dig holes every two feet and put a shovelful of compost in each hole.

Then we set out the transplants, which may be dwarfed by the giant chard or kale on either side of them. This is not a problem for a short time. It may even help shade the new transplants and prevent wilting.

Soon we will make a last harvest of the salad mix to the south of these tomatoes. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Within the next two weeks after transplanting the tomatoes (or peppers, squash or cucumbers), we terminally harvest the greens directly to the south of each transplant, to let some more light reach the new plants.

To the north of these young squash plants are beet greens and scallions. To the south can be seen dried-up leaves of harvested beets. Photo by Wren Vile

Next we remove the rest of the greens on the south side of the bed, so they don’t block light from the warm weather crop.

Large plants like these chard need to be cleared from the south of the new crops sooner than short crops like lettuce mix or spinach. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

When the greens on the south side are all gone, we harvest the ones on the north side.

We “normally” aim to transplant our hoop house tomatoes March 15, but this year we delayed a week due to a very cold snap. We keep the tomato transplants in pots in our greenhouse, which stays warmer at night than our double-layer plastic hoop house. The greenhouse has a solid blockwork north wall and double-glazed windows (repurposed patio doors). We can keep the transplants in the greenhouse warmer at night with rowcover. We use the same sequential cropping method for our cucumbers, yellow squash and peppers, usually transplanted 4/1. We do have rowcover ready in the hoop house for frosty nights after transplanting.

I have previously written about outdoor intercropping in various seasons for this blog:

1. Intercropping: Companion Planting that Really Works 3/7/2015

2. Intercropping Vegetables in Late Spring and Early Summer  6/17/2015

3. Late Summer and Fall Intercropping of Cover Crops in Vegetable Crops 7/8/2015

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at www.sustainablemarketfarming.com, Pam’s blog is on her website and also on facebook.com/SustainableMarketFarming.

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