Maintaining Companion Planting Techniques while Mechanizing in Diverse, Small-Farm Vegetable Operations

2012 Annual Report for FNC10-814

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Rob Faux
Genuine Faux Farm

Maintaining Companion Planting Techniques while Mechanizing in Diverse, Small-Farm Vegetable Operations


Year Two Summary

The second year of the project allowed us to really test new spacing techniques with the equipment we acquired and learned to use in year one. Only minor modifications were needed from year one in order to respond to issues discovered in the process of working the fields. As a result, we were able to collect some data between the control (our prior spacing methods) and the treatment (new spacing methods). As with most research projects, this one may have done a better job isolating more questions than it did answering them. However, we do feel we have made great strides in identifying some companion cash crop spacings that could be used by growers looking to scale up. We have adopted many of these spacings in our future plans with some modifications.

Results Summary
  • The new spacing for the potato and bean intercropping was successful
    The new spacing for the brassica and allium intercropping was only successful for the brassica
    The winter squash and flower spacing field is inconclusive, with drought related losses that prevent accurate comparisons.
    Execution of a slightly different melon and flower spacing provided some results that may be extrapolated for the winter squash. In fact, this spacing has led us to investigate with further research with the vine crops.
    In all cases, weed control ‘in row’ remained difficult, requiring extensive labor effort.
    Weed control ‘between rows’ required fewer person hours with the treatment spacing for the potato/bean intercropping in particular.
    Weed control labor saving between rows had more contingencies in other intercropping pairs (see detailed responses)
    Pest control did not appear to change between spacing types in the beans and potatoes
    Pest control in the brassica/allium did not appear to change between spacing types
    Data for pest control in vine crops is insufficient to report results.
    Labor savings results were mixed.

Objectives/Performance Targets


Goal – continue to refine use of equipment with our intercropping systems. Make adjustments to the tools as needed. Be able to report some basic guidelines for some workable intercropping spacings.

As anticipated, the learning curve in year one was significant but sufficient to allow us to test our hypothesis in year two. We have determined that there are modifications that can be made to the equipment on hand that will help us with future efforts. Further, we have also identified other equipment and technologies that may encourage further modification to our spacing choices.

The tractor used is a 1949 Ford 8n/9n tractor with 40 inches between the wheels. As a result, we created 40 inch beds with approximately 2 foot wide wheel tracks between beds as our treatment plantings. We were able to use more mechanization between rows for weed control than we were able to use in our traditional tiller width with walking path type of spacing.

Implements used during the research project included an S tine cultivator, disc, potato digger, chisel plow (single point) and the simple draw bar to aid in laying drip tape.

The process of this project also has opened the door for the use of a flat bed mulch layer (for paper mulch). This would not have been an option with our prior spacing without significant hand labor. We are also now able to use a flex tine cultivator with this bed spacing.

These tools were not used in the control area once the beds were planted. We did use the disk to prep entire fields. The chisel plow was used in areas of identified hardpan the Fall prior to planting. Any tool used in the control could (and probably was) used in the treatment areas as well. This included the BCS walk behind tractor, wheel hoes and other small tools.


Bean/Potato Spacing

We will include more detail in the final report.

The treatment spacing was deemed a success by virtue of similar yields, similar pest control and increased work efficiency. In particular, work savings were identified in the weed control efforts. We anticipate that this will be extended with the inclusion of a flex tine weeder in future years.

Secondary time savings were identified with respect to harvest labor. Picking time per pound was greater in the double rows implemented in the old spacing techniques. Harvesters reported difficulty making sure they harvested all beans in the areas between the two bean rows. They reported no difficulty with beans on the side of the plants next to the potatoes in the treatment beds.

Potato harvest time was similar since potatoes were harvested after all beans completed their seasons. Thus, the potato digger could be used in all rows. This does, however, identify a limitation for growers with intercropping beans and potatoes with either spacing. Short of undermining all potatoes by hand with a broadfork, any mechanical approach to digging potatoes will most certainly destroy the adjacent beans. Therefore, potato harvest must wait until beans have completed their harvest cycle or beans must be terminated prior to completion of the harvest cycle. This may not be an issue for growers who do not extend the harvest of a green bean planting as long as we tend to do.

The potato beetle control afforded by bush beans in potatoes showed no difference between the treatment and the control during both seasons of the project. The only potato beetles observed were on the edges of the field or in the middle rows of the field where two potato rows were adjacent to each other. The presence of Colorado potato beetle in these areas indicates that pest pressure was possible during each season. Absence in areas with adjacent beans indicates sufficient control. Future study could identify minimum required distances for beneficial effect.

Both bean and potato yields were statistically similar, with no issues with proximity of beans and potatoes to each other in the treatment spacings. On the other hand, one of our bean varieties exhibited a positive difference per seed foot in the treatment spacing versus the traditional spacing. Since the second variety does not show a similar difference, we cannot claim a yield benefit with the treatment spacing.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


We will include more detail in the final report.

We were unable to identify a successful spacing technique for intercropped brassica and allium. A windstorm rolled most of the larger brassica over onto the the allia, which resulted in stunted plants.

Weeding efforts were not successfully reduced with the treatment spacing. As a result, most allia were undersized at this point and unable to provide a decent crop.

Brassica in both the control and treatment did equally well and did benefit from the interplanting, despite the allia being stunted. While there was little pressure on our farm from cabbage loopers and cabbage worms in 2012, there was significant pressure in 2011. Proximity in both spacings to living allia plants appeared to reduce the pressure.

We intend to amend the spacing in these fields and introduce the use of paper mulch (something we could not do with our traditional spacing without adding significant hand labor).

Other Intercropping Spacing

We have identified reasonable companion spacings for winter squash and melons that will allow us to incorporate paper mulch. We will continue to research this over the next two years.

Our spacing trials have provided sufficient success with respect to labor efficiency while maintaining intercropping techniques that we have adopted several new spacings using the same principles. One such planting includes garlic, root crops and summer squash/zucchini. Another spacing includes cucumber, peas, carrots and climbing beans.

In general, we feel that this study shows the concept may be implemented in a scaled up operation. At this point, we recommend further research to identify proper companions, spacings and techniques for various crops.


Rob Faux
PO Box 121
Tripoli, IA 50676
Office Phone: 3196109201
Tammy Faux
PO Box 121
Tripoli, IA 50676
Office Phone: 3106109115