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
Polyculture, Silvopasture, Alley Cropping, and Ecoagriculture

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 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 only exception to this rule is turnip, which is so disease and insect resistant that it can be grown almost anytime in rotation.

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.

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

Cover Crop Cocktails:

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 levels in the soil. Carbon is energy to micro-organisms.

Pasture row crop rotation

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. Rotating row crop fields with pasture fields is ideal for increasing nutrients and reducing disease.


Management Practices:

At the end of the season, if using no-till, make sure all remaning 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.

Pasture cropping is extremely effective for crops that are allelopathic such as grasses. It even works well for legumes if they have vigorous growth.

Colin Seis - pasture cropping
Perennial cover crop

Vegetable Rotation Example:

(ZONE 4-6)

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 no-till which still occasionally needs shallow tilling. The key is to grow a living mulch as an inter-crop or relay-crop and then also use it to provide replacement mulch. Legumes which share nodulating inoculant bacteria types are planted at least every 3-4 years so re-inoculation can be avoided (except Sesbania).

The usage of the cover crop mixes here will depend on the type of planter you have and how well it can cut through residue. You may want to cut back on some of the more complex covers if your seeder cannot handle them. Or get a new seeder.

Rotation Graphical Image

1. VERY EARLY SPRING - plant inoculated green peas as solid bed.
   MID SPRING - For cover plant German Foxtail Millet, heirloom corn 
            safflower, sesame,  
            cowpea, mung.
   EARLY FALL - roll chop / mow for mulch before they go to seed.
            plant collards, kale, turnip, rape.
   MID FALL - where mulch is too thin, 
              plant living mulch of crimson clover.
   LATE WINTER - mow remaining organic matter.
2. LATE WINTER - flax for cover from root mat.
   MID SPRING - mow flax before jab plant okra in.
   MID FALL - run okra through chipper and 
               move to new seperate compost pile.
               Plant garlic.
               Cover bed with partially decomposed 
               wood chips.
3. EARLY SPRING - plant seed of anise, milk thistle.
            transplant onion, leek, celery, parsley.
            allow garlic and onion to bulb.
   MID/LATE SPRING - As you harvest:
            plant amaranth, hemp,
            sesbania, fenugreek,  
            sunn hemp, teff.
   FALL - Roll chop / mow cover crop.
          Plant buckwheat, barley, chickling vetch. 
          Transplant sweet alyssum, calendula, nasturtium, 
          marigold, chrysanthemums, gazanias, snapdragon.
   MID WINTER - roll crimp remaining cover crop.
4. VERY EARLY SPRING - plant inoculated green peas as solid bed.
   MID SPRING - harvest and mow peas.
            For cover plant German Foxtail Millet, heirloom corn 
            safflower, sesame, 
            cowpea, mung.
   EARLY FALL - roll chop / mow for mulch.
                plant collards, kale, turnip, rape.
   MID FALL - Where mulch is too thin, 
              plant living mulch of crimson clover.
   LATE WINTER - mow remaining organic matter.
5. LATE WINTER - flax for cover.
   EARLY SUMMER - mow flax.
                  double transplant dryland rice.
                  mulch heavily with partially decomposed
                      wood chips.
   EARLY FALL - harvest rice. leave short stubble and residue.
                Plant cereal rye or triticale / hairy vetch.
6. LATE SPRING - Allow fall planting to bloom
                 and then roll crimp and use as mulch.
                 Transplant butternut squash.
                 Plant Tatume seed.
                 grow on trellis.
                 Inter-crop for replacement mulch:
                 sorghum, sudan grass 
                 amaranth, hemp, 
                 hyacinth, kudzu, non-dormant alfalfa.
                 Warning: Some of these cover crops require a 
                 hard freeze to kill.
   EARLY FALL - mow summer cover crop.
                plant a fall cover for next years mulch:
                chickling vetch, fava, winter field pea, 
                Brassica campestris, B. napus, B. juncea.
   LATE FALL - harvest squash.
   EARLY WINTER - roll crimp mulch just before hard freeze.
7. EARLY SPRING - carrot, red beet, chicory, sugar beet, 
                  parsnip, salsify, radish
                  Use heirloom varieties if you want to 
                  stretch out the harvest.
   MID SPRING - As the mulch deteriorates, plant fenugreek 
                as a living mulch.
                Transplant alyssum.
   EARLY SUMMER - Harvest most of carrots and beets.
                  As you harvest plant teff. 
   FALL - Harvest chicory greens.
          Harvest chicory, parsnip, 
          and salsify roots.
          As harvest, plant oats as cover.
          Leave some roots for seed production 
          next spring.
   WINTER - Transplant roots from other 
            beds for seed production next spring.
            ( onion, leek, celery, parsley, 
            collards, kale, turnip, rape)
            Mulch the bed with wood chips.
            Use low tunnel to protect insect eggs 
            on stems and encourage early start 
            for beneficials. 
            Do not touch the insect eggs. 
Advantages of this rotation:

Almost 2 years between each crop type, except the cover crops. The cover crops are not allowed to mature and build up disease. Turnip is so disease resistant, it can follow other Brassica.

5 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. This crop rotation does not require a greenhouse or cold frames.

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 fairly 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 early summer. Plant squash in large pots and wait to transplant as late as possible after the major hail season has passed.

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

A manually cultivated vegetable garden should only be big enough to grow what you will eat yourself. 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 advantage, a high value of freshness advantage, or a yield advantage. Most of the crops listed fit into these categories. Some are included to round out the rotation and provide complete self sufficiency. The long term health of societies is improved when each individual personally maintains a local source of fresh vegetables.


Grain Legume Rotation:

Zone 4-6 example rotation: These are the staple crops that are hard to justify growing maually. 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 the next section 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 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. can be 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.


Polyculture, Silvopasture, Alley Cropping, and Ecoagriculture:

Orchards and vineyards have been planted as monocultures for thousands of years for efficiency sake. But monocultures create an environment that is disease prone. Polyculture orchards and vineyards may be less efficient for harvesting, but they can be more efficient for disease prevention. Legume trees and bushes can also help provide nitrogen.

Tree Orchard and Vineyard Guilds

Mixed species orchards and vineyards 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
University of Missouri - forest crop diversity

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 20-50 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?


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.

Tree Orchard and Vineyard Guilds

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


These rotations are not intended for commercial agriculture for human consumption. Commercial agriculture demands adherance to the local environmental limitations much more strictly.

Extra time and expense to overcome local restrictions can be justified for self sufficiency because these crops are consumed locally with little or no distribution costs or marketing concerns. Where rain is common in the fall, sunflowers may need to be manually harvested and hung to dry in a barn. Roots may also need to be manually harvested if rains occur at harvest time. White beans may be perfect nutritionally, but may have purley cosmetic stains that prevent them from being commercially viable. But many of the permaculture crops listed above are perfect for animal consumption if they have cosmetic blemishes.

Garden for Nutrition Index