Sub Acre Market Garden Rotation: 1st Stab

So I spent some time a weekend or so ago pouring over every book I had on crop rotations, and rechecked out the copy of Eliot Coleman’s New Market Grower that I had donated to our library. This file is the my current working draft rotation for the farm-and, yes, I know I need to get out more in the winter. Most of the time was spent on getting the layout side of the rotation up, the actual plant details have alot of work left.

Sub Acre Market Garden Rotation

Some explaining, this is basically an abstract spacial representation of the layouts in the .1 Acre Page to show each bed progressing through 4 years of rotations.: Rows are each one bed in the garden (there are 12). Each Column is a month in the Gardening year (Starting in March) that takes that bed through a 4 year rotation as you scroll right. Each bed accommodates a 18 month cover crop in each 4 year chunk, and every bed is designed to only be have exposed soil directly at planting time. I did not include “till times” but it is assumed that the cover crops will be killed by mowing or chicken tiller with enough time to allow either seeding or transplanting. Almost certainly some of the rotations are too tight for this. The smaller rows under each “group” is to mark under-sowing of cover crops while the cash crop is still in place.

Much will need to be ironed out -after several hours the question of how long winter squash would be in the ground began to slip beyond me-, especially how will I kill the perennial cover crops without tilling? I will be partnering with my county extension soon and may reach out to ATTRA in person since they are actually funded again. There will be a second rotation as this one is very light on varieties right now (no beans!!) so the second garden will incorporate what this is lacking. The original design was for .25 acres which makes flexing in varieties easier. Next steps are in ironing out flower and herb varieties for the perennial insectary beds and then somehow dumping all this into a digital presentation to pitch it to the land owners!

Comments are very much encouraged, I know that many of you are much more experienced at this than I am! I know there are myriad minor issues still in there and February will bring a much closer revisit to ensure planting/harvest times are reasonable, etc once my brain stops hurting from juggling all these time/spacial relationships onto a spreadsheet.

This will be added to the .1 Acre Market Page in a few weeks for easy reference.


6 Responses

  1. Well, as I sussed out my crop rotation pretty thoroughly last winter, looking at your crop rotations will give me something to do with that part of my brain this winter! 😉 This is really impressive – many times more complex than what I’ve tried at home – so I might not have much to add.

    A couple small thoughts include:
    * Consider only using compost crops that either winter-kill or have a limited lifespan (e.g., grains). How will you ever kill alfalfa??
    * Include legumes as a cover crop. For example, field peas will smother weeds, fix nitrogen, and die after setting seed. Then you just rake the bed clean, leaving the roots in the soil. Dry beans take very little effort to grow, though I’m not sure how you shell them on a commercial scale.
    * Potato harvest requires you dig deeply. Perhaps you could use that to your advantage in cases where tilling might seem necessary.

  2. Thanks Emily. I agree that getting the alfalfa up is going to be tricky in the extreme, but my research thus far has said that the only way to ADD organic matter long term (not maintain) on a large area that is not easily manured is through perennial cover-crops left in the ground for 2 seasons. Seeing as this is designed as a land healing garden for the denuded soils of suburbia I am committed to trying to find a workaround. That said something less tenacious than Alfalfa may be needed. I will try to plant each long term cover with a different plant to test results/ease or rotation. Difficulty in removal often is due to extensive roots-just the thing to rebuild soils. Again, the catch twenty two!

    Shelling beans on a large scale will most likely mean either a work day with friends or some fabbed up machine. I have seen old dryers put to good use as threshers… Hmmm. sounds like another good winter project!

  3. No constructive criticism from me–I know only the basics of crop rotation and it would take me forever to figure out a multiple year rotation for so many beds. Your chart is impressive. The only inconsistency I think I noticed is that during years 1 and 2 you have your tomatoes starting at May/June, but during years 3 and 4 they’re at June/July.

  4. Rob- How about “summer alfalfa”? It frost-kills and grows faster than regular alfalfa – up to 10 tons of organic matter per acre, including deep tap roots.

  5. Emily,
    That looks very interesting! The roots are really what I am looking for, I think I will try a test plot at my home gardens (with their awful soil) to see the results!

  6. […] be the only time that tines hit soil in this project. The beds will then be planted on a modified rotation, basically removing the perennial covers (Red Clover/Alfalfa) that were intended to add […]

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