In Part 1 of planning your Planting Calendar, I talked about determining the ideal time of the year to grow an individual plant.
a.) determined what plants you’d like to grow and
b.) have ideal times for those plants,
it’s time to combine this information into a cohesive strategy for the whole year that minimizes your effort while maximizing your output.
Before the advent of fertilizers and pesticides (ironically called the “green revolution”), crop rotation was the traditional way that farmers managed their lands. Practiced as far back in history as the Roman empire, traditional crop rotation involved rotating the type of crops you planted in a field and occasionally leaving it fallow (no crops).
…to satisfy myself by enquiry from the best farmers of all the circumstances which may decide on the best rotation of crops; for I take that to be the most important of all the questions a farmer has to decide.Thomas Jefferson
This helped for multiple reasons:
Planting a legume crop after growing a heavy feeding crop helped to restore some of the nitrogen in the soil.
Leaving the field fallow allowed micro-organisms that had died off from tilling to recover.
Planting different crops reduced pest populations that targetted specific crops.
Used throughout the middle ages in Europe, the three-field crop rotation system was supplanted in popularity in the 17th century by Charles Townshend’s 4 crop rotation system (that mixed in livestock feed crops) before gradually giving way to the easy promises of chemical-based agriculture in the 1950s. Most western agricultural systems have forgotten techniques of crop rotation; however, other countries in Asia and South America have continued to successfully experiment with some forms of multi-cropping.
Intercropping or “alley cropping” is a system of planting alternating crops in the same space. Usually in commercial agriculture this is done with alternating rows, but in small-scale gardens this can be done using mixed intercropping.
In mixed intercropping two plants are alternated between each other. An example would be placing a nitrogen-fixing bean between a heavy nitrogen feeder like tomato or corn.
Another example would be planting a row of quick-growing leafy greens like lettuce in between slow-growing tubers like carrots or leeks. The lettuce will fill out quickly and retain moisture for the carrots.
Indeed this is one criteria we use for the selection of plants in our Permakits!
Sequential (succession) cropping involves:
Planting more than one crop in the same space within one year
Planting one set of plants after harvesting the previous crop
The advantages of this technique are many:
1.) The soil is mulched by the crops so you don’t have bare soil exposed to the elements.
2.) The previous crop’s decomposing roots and leaves retain nutrients and provide aeration.
3.) You can double or triple your harvest using the same space!
One good rule of thumb in choosing candidates for possible sequential cropping is to pick plants that naturally prefer a certain season. For example, you could plant an early crop of favas or peas in the spring that will naturally die down in the summer followed by a late summer crop like melons or squash.
With some compost and leaf mulch amendments, sequential cropping can be easily be practiced through all four seasons. In temperate climates, hoop houses or high tunnels can be used to extend the season through the winter and 3 or 4 crops can be successively planted in one year.
Monoculture agriculture largely focuses on measuring the amounts of chemical nutrients in the soil but the reality is that soil with high organic content will retain most of the nutrients needed for plant growth (instead of them leeching away). Maintaining a healthy organic soil and a diverse crop rotation should allow you to practice multi-cropping without any loss of soil fertility.
Pineapple ratoon croppingFinally, there is a practice of partial harvesting of leaves and fruit back to the root stubble called ratoon cropping. It is similar to harvesting perennial veggies and fruit (our ultimate goal) except applied to crops that are traditionally grown annually.
The advantage to this system is that the plants already have an established root system and can grow for a second harvest much quicker than putting in a new crop. Used for commercial crops like cotton, sorghum and rice, we can easily adapt this to the backyard for annual veggies like chard, brassicas like kale or bok choy, and pigeon peas.
“Ratoon cropping is the practice of partially harvesting leaves and fruit back to the root stubble”So how do we combine all of these different cropping systems along with our plant ideal growing dates into something practical and manageable?
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