I’m thinking that this might be the most boring post in the history of blogdom. And that is saying a lot. We spent an evening a couple of nights ago going through the crops that we want to grow. This is a complicated issue when you want to grow an acre or more of crops.
Conventional farmers tend to grow acres and acres of the same crop (just drive through Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas or any other state in the Midwest and you will see monoculture). Most of the Midwest grows two primary crops, corn and soybeans.
While on the one hand, this is an example of crop rotation, on the other hand this is a major problem facing the future of food. When there is one crop that covers many acres, it creates a micro-environment that is conducive to certain species of pests. For example, when you grow thousands of acres of corn it becomes like corn earworm heaven. Since corn is what those worms eat, a field of corn is where they want to be. How do you get rid of them?
In conventional agriculture you spray the field with pesticides and kill them. That is great, but these worms live with corn their entire lives and mother nature doesn’t give up that easily. Pretty soon you have a worm (or other insect) that is no longer affected by the pesticide so the farmer has to come up with stronger and stronger chemicals to keep the pests off of his field. It’s a bad cycle to be in.
Our intention on our farm is to grow a diverse crop. Instead of growing acres of a single crop, we’re going to grow just about an acre of vegetables (to start with anyway) and there will be many different varieties of vegetable spread out on our land. That way if a corn earworm shows up, it will find some corn, but not very much. It may still destroy our crop of corn, but we will also have a variety of other crops to depend on.
In addition to growing small amounts of crops, we also won’t keep crops of the same type in different areas of the field. We divided our field into 4 different plots (and we have the space in the area we intend to farm to grow to 12 plots when I have time to till it). Each plot has 8 rows about 60 feet long.
What we will do is make every plot identical which will separate the potatoes into 4 different locations. So if the potatoes are hit with blight, there is a chance that it won’t spread across the field to the rest of the potatoes.
Then, next year, we will change all of the plots. We will move row 1 to row 2 and row 2 to row 3, etc. That way potatoes will only grow in the same place every 8 years. That way the diseases that live in the soil will only have their food of choice every 8 years (actually it works out to be less than that, but the idea is that it isn’t every year).
We are also going to throw in some chickens to mix things up a bit more. We will dedicate a plot or two every year to be the range for our chickens (that we don’t have yet, but we’re planning…) and those plots will move every year to add nitrogen to the soil and provide good food for the chickens)
That is a picture of the cards that we used to organize our crop rotation. We still have a lot to learn, but this seemed like a reasonable approach that I found in a book I was reading. And in case you can’t read it, here is what we’ll be growing.
Row 1: Tomatoes, tomatilloes and hot peppers
Row 2: Summer Squash, cucumbers and winter squash
Row 3: Kale, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Collard Greens, salad greens and radishes
Row 4: Green Beans, peas, dry beans
Row 5: Potatoes and Sweet peppers
Row 6: Arugula, Broccoli, salad greens, mustard greens, beets
Row 7: beets, spinach, chard, onion, leeks
Row 8: dragon carrots, carrots, basil, cilantro and dill.
There will be a lot in each row and we’ll have it divided up so that we get enough of everything. After having no clue how to figure out how much crop we want, we decided to take a guess and then try to do better next year.
We also have thoughts of using edible flowers to divide crops within rows so we can tell where one stops and the next begins.
It’s year 1, there will be trial and error.