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Organic Crop Rotation:

Rotation Rules
Vegetable Living Mulch
Grain  Legume Pasture Cropping
Management Practices
Cover Crop Cocktails
Tilled Vegetable Rotation Examples
Plowed Grain Legume Rotation

Rotation Rules:

Crop rotation is one of the most important tools to prevent disease in organic gardening. Planting the same crops in the same place repeatedly will allow disease to build up.

Skip 2/3 years between growing crops of the same type to maturity. (grain, legume, root, greens, etc.)

Grass family crops and non-grass family crops have extremely different diseases that they are susceptible to, so switch back and forth as much as possible.

The most disease susceptible non-grass family (broadleaf) crops are dry beans, sunflower, and squash. Try not to grow these crops back to back. Plant resistant varieties, use clean culture or roll all residue to the ground, do not overwater, never water these crops from overhead, keep squash vines off the ground, etc.

Buckwheat, mustard, alfalfa, and flax are the most disease resistant of the non-grass family crops. Use these crops or grains between beans, sunflower, and squash.

Sorghum (C4), millet, and oats are the more disease resistant of the grains.

To prevent insects, plant brassica only in the fall (except the spicy varieties; turnip, mustard, ...).

The nightshade family presents many crop rotation problems due to disease prevalence. Many plant diseases are much easier to control without the nightshade family in the rotation.

Try not to plant crops which are heavy feeders of the same nutrient in the same place consecutively. If this cannot be avoided, then take special measures such as intercropping, mulching, or amendments.

NDSU - Crop Rotations for Managing Plant Disease
SARE - Crop Rotation

Vegetable Garden Living Mulch Low Till / No Till Examples:

Vegetable LowTill Rotation - zones 4-6
eOrganic - Helen Atthowe, strip mowing

The above rotation is intended mainly for potherb and edible flowers, instead of mature fruit. These vegetables are fast growing and weed competitive. Temperature and thick planting can be used to suppress some weeds. But some crops require the soil to have at least a shallow till to disrupt the weeds. Strip tilling reduces erosion and regular mowing increases the carbon cycling into the soil. Shallow cultivation followed by mulching may be the best way to control weeds in the least weed competitive crops. (Carrots, beets, okra, sunflower, etc.). Growing crops that thrive under low fertility levels can also be a way of suppressing weeds.

A limited number of crops can be sown directly into a mowed field without tilling, if the timing is right. These are good for pasture cropping, community, or guerilla gardening: grains, field pea, turnip, mustard, cowpea, buckwheat, milk thistle, flax, fenugreek, chickling vetch, etc.

Beds for highly weed competitive, long season, wild edibles, biennials, and nitrogen fixing perennials can be interspersed between the above short season beds. These long season beds provide some fertility for the short season beds using chop, drop, and mow. No mowing occurs inside the single perennial row at the center of each bed. For example: mallow, stinging nettle, dandelion, chicory, Good King Henry, plantain, salad burnet, asparagus, sea kale, etc. Colorful edible perennial flowers (Dianthus, Nasturtium, Dahlia, etc.) also provide an excellant source of antioxidants. Perennial coppiced nitrogen fixing plants include Black Locust, Paulownia, Alder, Honey Locust, Birch, Silverscape, Alderleaf Buckthorn, Seaberry, Siberian Pea Shrub, Buffaloberry, Dalea candida, Birds Foot, Sainfoin, Alfalfa, Crown vetch, Purple prairie clover, Illinois bundle flower, Lespedeza, etc.


Grain and Legume Pasture Cropping:

Pasture cropping is the practice of planting crops in a field without trying to completely kill off the native pasture forage. Instead, the natural pasture competition is managed. The main advantages of pasture cropping are that there are no expenditures or time spent on cover crop management, the method is no-till, there is no chemical usage required, there are good fallback options when crop failures occur, and there is no better way to build soil fertility than a pasture with animals.

Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for pasture cropping, but here are the basics. The crops planted need to have some kind of advantage over the native pasture; such as cold tolerance, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, different canopy layer, etc.

The first year, the grass and forbs in the pasture will be too strong to plant into. Suppress the pasture with continous grazing (sheep, geese, eqine, etc.). This will let in light to encourage the low growing grasses and clovers which thrive under intense grazing; wild White Clover, Kentucky Bluegrass, Wheatgrass, Buffalo Grass, etc. At the end of this first year, grow strong allelopathic, smothering, or cold tolerant crops: winter wheat, rye, triticale, fava, etc.

In the second year, the pasture will start to recover. It will need to be suppressed again with animal grazing and then followed with summer crops that are allelopathic, smothering, or have some other type of advantage: hemp, chia, sorgham, millet, cowpea, etc. Depending on your climate, cold season or biennial crops can be planted in the fall, such as dandelion, chicory, non GMO Canola, etc.

By the third year, the pasture will finally start to weaken and less competitive crops can be grown: Plant flax and fava in the ultra early spring (about 8 weeks before the last frost), before it is warm enough for weeds to grow. Plant turnip in the very early spring ( about 7 weeks before the last frost). In the early spring (about 6 weeks before the last frost), plant mustard, tatsoi, spinach, peas, oats, radish, rutabaga, chinese cabbage, onions, etc. Not every variety will tolerate such early planting, so use cold tolerant varieties. And watch weather forecasts to determine exact timing. In the mid spring, some of the slightly wild crops can be grown; mallow, nettle, etc. In the late spring plant sunflower, corn, white bean, okra, etc. Or some of the slightly wild crops can be grown: Cushaw squash, fenugreek, etc. In the fall, transplant collards, kale, heirloom rapeseed, etc.

If the pasture is based on seed propagated species, the pasture may need to go to seed every 3-4 years. So, in the fourth year, the pasture is allowed to grow ungrazed until after the clover goes to seed. Then the cycle starts all over.

There are many possible variations of this method. If a field can be flooded it will kill off all roots and almost any crop can be grown depending on the native weed seed bank.

Clover seed can be purchased to regenerate the pasture instead of allowing it to go to seed. Or, legumes can be used that propagate by stolon or rhizomes so they do not need to go to seed (white clover, milkvetch).

Wind breaks can help prevent wild native seeds from blowing in.

Regeneration International - pasture cropping
Australia - pasture cropping
Colin Seis - pasture cropping
Colin Seis - more detailed
Pasture cropping in Australia
Pasture Cropping grains
Iowa State - no-till into Bluegrass
Joel Salatin - summer pasture cropping
C4 plants

Historical attempts at temporary or partial weed suppression where even a crop like rice (C3) can be planted into a perennial clover.

Evolution of agriculture - low input methods
Masanobu Fukuoka - rice into clover
Sod based rotation
Robert Elliot - early example of field rotation

Management Practices:

At the end of the season, if using no-till, make sure all remaining organic matter is in contact with the soil once crops are terminated. If not using no-till, practice clean culture in the field and under trees and vines. Thoroughly chopping up residue and watering will speed decomposition and reduce mold.

Do not practice clean culture in beneficial perennial plant plots. Many beneficial insects pupate in the soil and they tend to do it around beneficial perennials.

Immediately remove diseased plants as soon as symptoms become detectable.


Cover Crop Cocktails:

For tilled or mulch methods: The latest research indicates that plant communities suppress diseases better than monoculture rotations. But, cover crop cocktails need to be rotated also. And caution must be used when determining which cover crops to use. Not all cover crops are easy to teminate. Some crops require a hard freeze to terminate so do not plant them unless your area has dependable hard freezing. Most of the disease suppression comes from the grasses and herbs/broadleafs. Fertility comes from the legumes.

Christine Jones - quorum in microbiome
USDA Cover Crops
Plant Diversity Improves Protection
Georg August University in Gottingen, Germany
USDA NRCS East National Technology Support Center - undercover farmers
NCAT ATTRA - Innovative No-Till: Using Multi-Species Cover Crops
Gabe Brown - why he switched to no till
North Carolina State - cover crops

Because of airborn fungal disease and insect migration, rotations should occassionally skip large distances. Crops should not just move to the adjacent field or plot every year. An even better strategy is to convert fields to mixed pasture with grazing animals every 3-4 years. Nothing builds fertility better or suppresses disease as much and it earns money at the same time.

Cotswold - annuals in pasture rotation.


Tilled Vegetable Rotation Examples:

Tilled or mulch versions of rotation would also require planting very early to get roots in the ground as soon as possible in the spring, growing as late as possible into the winter, and using grow in-place mulch inside the garden. The in-place mulch will need to be supplemented by the use of inter-cropping. Below are links to examples.

Vegetable Rotation - zones 1-3

Vegetable Rotation - zones 4-5

Vegetable Rotation - zones 6-8
Advantages of these rotations:

2/3 years between each crop type, except the cover crops. But the cover crops are not allowed to mature and build up disease.

4 out of 7 years, the beds will produce a high calcium / magnesium crop. Most calcium crops are preceded by a non-calcium crop.

Another advantage of this rotation is that most of the late spring / early summer crops tend to be fairly resistant to late frost and hail. Lentils, peas, fava, and chickpea can regrow if damaged by frost or hail. Root crops are frost resistant and seldom lost to hail damage. Flax is very frost and hail resistant. Okra and beans will regrow as long as the first node is intact. Indeterminate beans will recover faster than determinate types. Hail and high wind are most likely in the late spring and very early summer. Plant squash in large pots and wait to transplant as late as possible after the major hail season has passed, and the squash vine borer egg season has passed.

Oats, barley, and wheat can be used in northern regions as a fall cover crop since the winters are cold enough to kill them and prevent regrowth. This allows for early spring planting the next year.


Plowed Grain Legume Rotation:

This tilled method works, but it is not very sustainable. If everyone practiced this method, we would be very hard pressed to supply adequate seed for the cover crops. And this method is very susceptible to supply chain disruption. Pasture cropping is a better long term solution.

Zone 4-7 example rotation: These are the staple crops that are hard to justify growing manually. Some manual crops are mixed in to create a balanced and complete rotation. Growing these crops as part of a local community is really the most efficient method. A certain size is required before the cost of machinery can be long term sustainable. For efficiency and long term sustainability, these crops should never be fed to animals. Instead, permaculture crops should be used as animal feed.

Grain / Legume Rotation

2 years between most crop types except legumes. But the legume cover crops are not allowed to mature thereby reducing disease. And when grown in a cocktail, the diseases are suppressed.


The most vulnerable broadleafs, sunflower and legumes, are only one year apart.

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