Garden For Nutrition Index
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Organic Self Sufficient Garden Crop Rotation:

Rotation Rules
Cover Crop Cocktails
Management Practices
Vegetable Rotation Example
Grain Legume Rotation
Pasture Cropping
Polyculture, Silvopasture, Alley Cropping, and Eco-agriculture

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. (grain, legume, root, greens, etc.)

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

The most disease susceptible non cereal (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-cereal 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.

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

Cover Crop Cocktails:

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.

Plant Diversity Improves Protection
Georg August University in Göttingen, 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
Rodale - ultra early spring cover crops
ATTRA Cover Crops
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.


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.


Vegetable Rotation Example:

(ZONE 5-7)

It is important to have a medium sized kitchen garden where animals are never allowed during the growing season and it is far from fresh animal manure. This is the garden which is safe to eat raw from.

The rotation below is an example of organic reduced tillage. Very shallow tillage is needed every few years. The keys to maximizing organic mineralization and fertility are to plant very early to get roots in the ground as soon as possible in spring, grow as late as possible into the winter, and grow in-place mulch inside the garden. The in-place mulch will need to be supplemented with off-site mulch and extended by the use of inter-cropping. The off-site mulch is needed mainly on the root crops. In the years when the mulch is too thick to plant with a seeder, use a jab planter, transplant, or just mow the residue and move it to where it is needed.

Rotation Graphical Image

1. VERY EARLY SPRING - green peas
   MID SPRING - proso millet 
            phacelia, safflower, sesame,  
            cowpea, mung
   EARLY FALL - transplant collards, kale, turnip, radish
                Brassica campestris, B. napus, B. juncea.
   MID FALL - crimson clover, oats
2. LATE WINTER - flax
   MID SPRING - okra / amaranth
   MID SUMMER - intercrop: buckwheat, barley, 
   MID WINTER - garlic
3. VERY EARLY SPRING - chickling vetch, lupin, parsley
   EARLY SPRING - transplant fennel, celery, onion, leek, 
                  milk thistle, anise, alyssum
   LATE SPRING - As you harvest:
                 Phacelia, Fenugreek, Teff, hemp
   EARLY FALL - spring wheat
4. VERY EARLY SPRING - green peas
   MID SPRING - millet, amaranth, safflower, sesame, 
                cowpea, mung.
   EARLY FALL - transplant collards, kale, turnip, radish
                Brassica campestris, B. napus, B. juncea.
   MID FALL - crimson clover, oats
5. LATE WINTER - flax.
   EARLY SUMMER - corn or rice.
   EARLY FALL - cereal rye or triticale / hairy vetch.
6. LATE SPRING - Transplant butternut squash and
                 Tatume squash
                 Inter-crop for replacement mulch:
                 sorghum, amaranth, hemp
                 Sesbania, Sunn Hemp
   EARLY FALL - barley, buckwheat, fava
7. VERY EARLY SPRING - chickling vetch, lupin, 
                       parsnip, spinach
   EARLY SPRING - carrot, chicory, salsify
                  red beet, sugar beet
   LATE SPRING - intercrop: Teff, fenugreek 
                 transplant alyssum
   EARLY FALL - spring wheat
                transplant calendula, nasturtium, 
                marigold, chrysanthemums, gazanias, 
   MID WINTER - Transplant dormant roots from other 
            beds for seed production next spring.
            ( onion, leek, celery, parsley, Brassica)
Advantages of this rotation:

2/3 years between each crop type, except the cover crops. 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.

This rotation provides folates and vitamin K sources year round: asparagus in early spring; turnip, nettle, and dandelion greens in the spring; peas in the late spring; lambsquarters in early summer; okra in summer; chicory and turnip in the fall; collards in late fall; leek and kale in early winter; Siberian kale in late winter; and onions and beet root in late winter / early spring.

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.

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.

A manually maintained garden is more efficient than a commercial source if most of the crops are those for which it is very difficult to harvest mechanically, there is a nutritional freshness advantage, or a yield advantage. Most of the crops listed fit into these categories.


Grain Legume Rotation:

Zone 5-7 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, the permaculture crops discussed in a section below should be used as animal feed.

Grain / Legume Rotation Graphical Image

1. SPRING - inoculated white bean
2. EARLY SUMMER - harvest wheat and roll straw
            For cover plant German Foxtail Millet, heirloom corn 
            safflower, sesame, amaranth, 
            cowpea, mung, sesbania, sunn hemp.
   EARLY FALL - roll chop / mow for mulch before they go to seed.
   EARLY FALL - collards, kale
                crimson clover, berseem
                as living mulch
3. SPRING - hemp, sesame, or chia
   EARLY FALL - oats
                phacelia, Calendula, buckwheat
                fava, chickling vetch
                for weed control and mycorrhizal fungi.
4. LATE WINTER - flax
   SPRING - inoculated peanut or other legume. 
   EARLY FALL - harvest peanut and weed.
   EARLY FALL - Plant cereal rye or triticale / hairy vetch.
5. LATE SPRING - roll cover
                 double transplant rice.
   MID FALL - Harvest the rice and leave residue
               as cover.
               Plant fava, chickling vetch
               Brassica campestris, B. napus, B. juncea.
               Not enough time for full cover but will feed
6. LATE WINTER - flax / lupin for cover
   SPRING - mow flax
            plant sunflower
   EARLY FALL - Phacelia, Calendula, buckwheat
            berseem, crimson clover
7. SPRING - carrot, beet, onion.
            even maturing varieties.
   EARLY SUMMER - Harvest and weed.
            For cover:
            German Foxtail Millet, sorghum 
            safflower, sesame, amaranth, 
            cowpea, mung, sesbania, sunn hemp.
   EARLY FALL - oats, 
                phacelia, Calendula, buckwheat
                fava, chickling vetch.

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.

This method works, but it is not very sustainable. If everyone practiced this method, we would be very hard pressed to supply adequate seed. Pasture cropping as discussed below is much more likely to allow sustainable broad acre application.


Pasture Cropping:

The first step of pasture cropping is to overgraze a pasture to weaken the weeds just before planting a crop.

The next step is to plant a crop into the pasture which behaves the opposite of the pasture: for example, plant a warm season crop into a cool season pasture, or plant a cool season crop into a warm season pasture. Ideally, the pasture will have some type of dormancy that can be taken advantage of.

It also helps if the crop is allelopathic, has extremely vigorous growth, or can be managed in a way that further suppresses the pasture.

Colin Seis - pasture cropping
Colin Seis - more detailed

Crops which can germinate and grow under extremely cold conditions are theoretically ideal for pasture cropping. They can get a head start before the weeds have a chance to germinate. These include flax from the Linaceae family; rye, oats, barley, and wheat from the grass family; chickling vetch, lupin, fava, lentil, and peas from the legume family; certain Brassica such as camelina and turnip; spinach and beets of the Chenopodiaceae family.

North Dakota State - flax
North Dakota flax
Canada - germination temps
SARE - see cultural traits section for germination temps

Crops which can germinate and grow under extremely hot conditions are ideal for pasture cropping. These include corn, sorghum, and millet from the grass family (C4).

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

Perhaps the best method to increase fertility and reduce disease is to convert a field / bed to pasture for several years. This will not only interrupt most disease / pest / weed cycles, but also increase carbon compound levels in the soil. Carbon compounds are the energy source for micro-organisms.

Sod based rotation

Continuous pasture cropping of a field may eventually weaken the pasture and can even change the nature of the pasture. Occasionally it might be necessary to revert back to normal grazing practices. Crop rotation is also just as important here as in a field where the soil is disturbed. Rotate between crop families as much as possible.

Pasture cropping in Australia

The species in the pasture and the suppression methods will also help determine how successful pasture cropping is. Pasture species which recover quickly, such as white clover and Kentucky Bluegrass, may grow back too quickly if a crop is planted in them which cannot handle the competition. A healthy dormant period in the pasture as a whole is important.


Polyculture, Silvopasture, Alley Cropping, and Eco-agriculture:

Orchards and vineyards have been planted as monocultures for thousands of years for harvesting efficiency sake. But monocultures create an environment that is disease prone. Polyculture orchards and vineyards can be harvested efficiently if harvest dates are matched up in each guild. Legume trees and bushes can also help provide nitrogen.

Tree Orchard and Vineyard Guilds
Stefan Sobkowiak - commercial polyculture orchard
Stefan Sobkowiak - update

Mixed species orchards, vineyards, alley cropping, and silvopasture will help prevent disease by forming complex networks of mycorrhizal fungus where the trees and vines help each other fight off disease. It also confuses insects.

PLOS ONE - mycorrhizal network shared across many plants
Nature - Complex Plant Fungus Networks
Willow, Cottonwood, Aspen, Hickory, and Walnut connect networks
University of Missouri - forest crop diversity

Silvopasture can actually increase productivity.

VTForages - Silvopasture overview, Honeylocust
Forest Connect - Silvopasture examples, Honeylocust
Silvopasture in Wisconsin

Agroforestry can enhance annual row crops with alley cropping.

University of Missouri - alley cropping
USDA - alley cropping

Many of the drought tolerant trees and bushes listed below are good for alley cropping because they have deep roots that will not compete with the crop. Ideal candidates are Italian Alder, sterile Paulownia, sterile Shipmast, Tulip Tree, Scots Pine, Persian Ironwood, sterile Siberian Pea Shrub, sterile Silverscape, Winterbloom, etc. Others may not be appropriate if fruit or nut drop would interfere with the annual crop and may work better in a silvopasture or polyculture orchard system. Black Walnut is not a good choice for alley cropping because of the allelopathic properties of juglone.

Trees and bushes used for alley cropping or habitat strips can also help keep the mycorrhizal network alive during the winter, when annual crops have died and no longer provide living roots. Ectomycorrhizal trees and bushes are useful if brassica is grown as an annual crop since brassica interact with ectomycorrhizal fungus. These include oak, chestnut, hickory, spruce, pine, hazelnut, chinkapin, pecan, etc. Be sure to evenly mix trees and shrubs that are both ecto and endomycorrhizal; such as alder, cherry, willow, cottonwood, aspen, plum, schisandra, grape, etc. This will help to tie the seperate endo and ectomycorrhizal networks and increase the overall strength of the system.

Alley cropping can also benefit from special treatment. Root pruning can be used to reduce competition for nutrients. Root pruning even has benefits in orchards.

Good Fruit - alley cropping is making a comeback
NRCS - general root pruning guidelines
Iowa State - root pruning

Ecoagriculture takes the concept one step further by taking a holistic view of the entire landscape.

Dr. Miguel Altieri - ecologically operated farms are more productve
Sustainable agriculture on the Loess Plateau
EverGreen agriculture in Africa
Diversity of ecoagriculture in Africa
Mark Shepard on Restoration Agriculture
Mark Shepard - silvopasture

Switching to permaculture crops for many of our staples can be very efficient and stable in spite of climate change.

Badgersett - woody agriculture efficiency

These pictures of what agriculture was like in the 1800 is what agriculture will return to once the current chemical ladden, monoculture, government handout supported system can no longer be sustained. There will be a thinner line between polyculture orchards and silvopasture.

Historic Agroforestry

How efficient is it to plant a monoculture orchard or vineyard and then be forced to dig it up and replace everything every 20 years once the pathogenic fungus, bacteria, and virus have adapted and killed everything? A polyculture orchard may be less efficient in the short run, but if it never experiences a non-productive crash, it may be far more productive in the long run. It may actually be less expensive and therefore more proftable in the short run since there will be almost no spraying. As more trees that were once resistant to diseases are becoming susceptible, at some point we will ask ourselves; can we afford the cost of staying ahead of the disease development rate in monoculture orchards or are we better off with polyculture and let nature fight the battles for us?

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