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(The following articles have been gathered and/or written by Director Ted Zettel.)
Crop rotation is a farmer's way of dealing with the natural law of diversity. Nowhere in nature do we find monoculture. However, a productive farmer cannot deal with continuous diversity in a crop held- unless he likes many different crops and weeds growing together, making mechanical harvest a major problem. Today's farmer must settle for diversity over a longer stretch of time. Year by year, season by season, the rotation can be varied enough to satisfy the natural law of diversity.
Some main areas of diversity to address are: broad-leaved plants and thin-leafed plants (moncots); legumes and grains annuals and perennials; spring and winter crops; heavy and light feeders; soil builders, soil miners, and soil conditioners; deep rooted and shallow rooted; brassicas and permanent crops like pasture. The more diversity, the better!
Fortunately, many crops can fulfill two or more roles at the same time. For example oats are not only thin-leafed plants, they also balance out rotation as annual, spring crops, etc. Another bonus is that some crops complement each other very well, as in the case of alfalfa and cam.
A good rotation also beats the weeds at their own game. Using a very diverse rotation never lets a particular weed become dominant. At first glance some crops like rye and oats seem very similar to each other, yet they do have significantly different growing requirements and characteristics. These differences mean a good rotation can include oats or rye, as a break-crop, between two crops of wheat, spelt or barley.
Another great asset in rotation is the use of cover crops. Volunteer cereals, oilseed radish and/or weeds are good nitrogen feeders after a harvest or compost application. (These serve to hold the nitrogen for the next crop.) However, to actually increase the soil's nitrogen supply, a sprinkle of red clover, hairy vetch or alfalfa can make a dramatic difference - all for the cost of the seed!
The secret to a good rotation is keen observation of details, and good understanding of the basics. This foundation allows the farmer to have a crop rotation as flexible and dynamic as the farmer's own frame of mind. Diversity is the goal, and productive soil is the result.
Copyright © 1995 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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