Monday, June 22, 2009

crop rotation

I'm reading "The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman. When I first skimmed through it I didn't think it would offer much new information above and beyond the other book I have by him, "Four Season Harvest." I wasn't ready to go ahead and buy it off Amazon so I checked it out from the library. Now I definitely am going to buy it. This is one of those books I will refer to over and over again, like The Garden Primer (by Barbara Damrosch, she and Coleman by coincidence are married to each other). I read it from beginning to end -- not because it was such a page turner necessarily, but I had started off skipping around and reading a few pages here and there, and then decided it would be more informative and less scattered if I read it in order. And it's really a great book and now that I'm done reading it I'm still going back and re-reading certain chapters to try and come up with a list of stuff to do.

There are definitely some chapters that are irrelevant for the home gardener, but the majority of it is applicable to my home garden as well as for a farmer.

So the book offered great information on how to get some great fertile loamy soil that plants will thrive in. Of course we all know you need great soil. But he's saying you will avoid the issue of "How do I get rid of aphids/ants/disease" in my plants in an all natural way. He's saying if you provide a low-stress environment for the plants you won't really have these problems. I hope all that road-work noise isn't stressful for the plants. We were joking about putting speakers in the hoophouse and blasting classical music for the tomatoes but that's another post. :-)

He isn't into using organic fertilizers or pesticides. He does use some soil amendments for sure -- greensand, phosphate. But he's not into fertilizing plants while they are growing except perhaps with some compost or something. He emphasizes using crop rotation which is not growing similar crops in the same plot. Crop rotation also is beneficial as some plants do better when they are planting where a different family was the year before -- for example, broccoli after onions.

He also uses green manure to improve the soil. Green manure are plants like clover and alfalfa that offer soil improving benefits. Sometimes they have deep roots that improve the subsoil tilth, or bring up nutrients higher up in the soil, or add nitrogen or other nutrients. You also can use the green biomass to compost or till into the soil to add more nutrients. He also uses short plants like clover to underplant with plants like tomatoes so they add nutrients while the other plant is growing, and basically grow more in less time as you don't have to wait until harvest to plant the green manure.

These things are probably common knowledge among experienced organic gardeners and farmers. He covers a wide range of issues in both a general and specific way. For example, at what stage you should till in a green manure for maximum soil benefit, or which plants will grow well using the multiplanting technique which is ideal for the lazy gardener/intensive garden.

There are chapters on tools (he's always figuring out how to make better tools to make farming less work), winter gardening, greenhouses and cold tunnels (hoophouses), tips on vegetables that I hadn't heard of before, and his way of starting seedlings that was also new to me. I'll post on a few of these things in the future as I try them out.

As you can see, there are a lot of ideas in this book I'm going to take a go at. The hardest one to get started on for me is planting up part of the garden with green manure. Like actual garden plots. I keep wanting to plant empty areas with lettuce or beets or tomatoes. But improving the soil now will payoff over time. And planting alfalfa is a lot cheaper than buying soil amendments and less work than pitchforking tons of compost every year.

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