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Letting Land Rest?

 
Beth Mouse
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I am wondering whether it is important to let your garden rest for a year or longer if you are doing small-scale home growing. I am wanting to have a garden that is about 1/8 - 1/4 acre and I do have an acre lot. However, if I am not having to set aside land that is resting for later cultivation, then I could put that land into a Perma-orchard and plant berries, fruit, and nut trees. Jeavons' Biointensive Method seems like you can grow food on the same plots forever if you follow his method.

However, I just finished reading Solomon's "Intelligent Gardener" and he is saying to have 6 to 8 small garden plots and to keep them all planted in grasses and herbs and only till or dig one each year for veggie production. Seems like a lot of work if I don't want to rototill and will have to dig. Roxbury Farm, who does Biodynamic Farming on a large scale says they have half of the land into production and the other half is resting (not sure if it is planted in green manure)?

If keeping half my veggie garden in green manure or grass and the other half producing will drastically help cut down on pests and other problems, then it would be worth it to set aside the space on my acre. Otherwise, would the Biointensive be a good method to follow if I am doing this for the long-term?

Thanks for any thoughts,
Beth M
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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That's not really in keeping with Permaculture. While land has to "rest" from the abuses heaped on it by industrial agriculture, permaculture is about using the natural productivity of the ecosystem. If you have healthy soil microbes, they support healthy soil animals, and that healthy soil fauna supports a healthy diversity of plant life -- generally plants we humans like to eat (or use in some other way).

When a Permaculturist looks at a piece of dirt, he thinks "what could be growing there?" It's not necessary to yank out what is there or till it under to replant it, sometimes you just have to coax natural competition to work in the way you want it to.

For example, if you have some weedy patch of lawn, you might think "this is a good place for a fruit tree", so you plant an apple tree. Then you read where garlic is a good companion plant under fruit trees to keep some insects away, so you plant some garlic under it. Then it grows big to the point where the grass that was under it isn't doing too well, it's too shady. So you plant some hostas under it. And the hostas are a magnet for slugs, so you get a duck to do slug patrol. Before long, an uninteresting piece of lawn has now become a permaculture garden that give you apples and garlic and hosta shoots (to use in place of asparagus) and duck eggs. And that piece of land never needs to take a rest.
 
John Gratrick
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Location: Mallorytown Zone 5a
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Hi Beth

My fellow John beat me to it with his response (I definately couldn't of said it better) but even if you have a spot where you don't know what to plant and want it to rest for later, plant some useful cover crop that can be chopped down for mulch in the meantime. That way the soil is improving for when it has its turn for food production and it will provide you with the means to improve the soil over a larger area.

Good permie soil never rests, it's too busy making better soil.

Good luck
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I think that the 'need to rest' philosophy is based on modern farming techniques, which are so destructive to soils.

A diverse polyculture, with multiple layers does not need to rest because the variety of plants is keeping the soil within balance. A huge monoculture crop is not only consuming the nutrients that its growth requires, but it is also starving the soil biota - wiping out entire species. Over time, this turns soil into dead dirt.

If you are developing a 'food forest', you will have the variety of species, and layers needed for a balanced soil. Smaller kitchen gardens can be another story. People tend to put their tomatoes in one spot, greens in another, and so on. This puts a strain on the balance (especially if you repeat the same pattern year after year). Some nutrients get depleted from each section, and problems (diseases & pests) get introduced. That is why crop rotation is often recommended - to break the destructive cycles.

For a typical kitchen garden set up, having a rest garden could give the soil time to recover from hard use. Such rest gardens would typically be legumes (to replace the lost nitrogen) and deep rooted dynamic accumulators to bring the nutrients back up to the top soil through mulching them in place. Depending on your climate, if you have time after harvest to plant a fast growing crop (like buckwheat - 30 days 'sow to mow'), or a legume like red or crimson clover, it doesn't matter if it winter kills. You are growing green manure, and protecting your soil from winter erosion.

No single answer can apply to all situations. I think that we all must view each situation as a total system, and try best to determine exactly what is best to keep the system functioning in the long term. What works for my climate, and style of gardening may not work for yours.

 
Leila Rich
steward
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Welcome to permies Beth
I'm basically just repeating the other posters...
I've heard the term, 'resting', though more in terms of fallowing pasture.
I'm not that familiar with Solomon, but from my understanding Jeavons is pretty dedicated to closing the nutrient 'loop' as much as possible.
Maintaining fertility is especially challenging in a market garden, where fertility is constantly exported in the form of produce leaving the property permanently.
I think nutrients will nearly always need to be imported,
but if X percent of your growing area isn't used for carbon/nitrogen crops, fertility will need to be imported in much larger amounts.
That may well be an economically viable decision for some, but it's not all that sustainable!

Fava beans are one of my favourite crops to grow to return fertility.
being a legume, they return nitrogen to the soil if cut off at ground-level just before flowering.
The beans are great fresh or dried, and the dead stalks make great mulch or carbon in compost.
They also grow over my winter, so are great to plant after greedy summer crops.
I avoid grasses of all kinds-corn is too hard on my soil, grains need too much space, and all lawn-type grasses are just a total pain to deal with.
I suggest reading up on 'polycultures'-if I'm growing a green manure, it tends to include lots of species (fava's an exception-too tall and shady)

So I suppose I'm saying "yes" to 'resting', but I'd consider it more as rotation/nutrient cycling etc.
 
Jessica Gorton
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Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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I think more important than resting is the idea of rotation, when it comes to annual garden beds. Different plants have different nutrient requirements, and different pest problems, so changing where they are planted from year to year keeps you from taking too much of one nutrient from a particular plot, and can confuse bug pests and break disease cycles.

I think that as long as you are adding nutrients back to the soil, it doesn't necessarily matter whether it's in the form of compost or mulch or a season "resting" with green manure (although all those choices probably add different benefits).
 
Walter McQuie
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Location: Northern New Mexico
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I think fallow is a pretty ancient concept, not just an industrial ag. concept. And from what I read, big farmers aren't letting much ground rest, so I'm not sure you can say that it is a practice used by conventional growers. Steve Solomon has taken up with nutrient dense proponents in his new book. Many of them minimize the concept of needing to add nutrients back to the soil. The thinking takes off from the observation that over 90% of plants' biomass is made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which they obtain from the air and water. If you are adding most of the biomass grown on a plot back into the soil, the loss in nutrients and minerals is small. Trace minerals and many nutrients are present in most soils and they recommend soil testing and adding minerals that are lacking/out of balance. Frequent rotations of mixes of grasses, broad-leaves and legumes that are cut and used as mulch will provide all of the rest of the nutrients needed.

Actually it is soil microbes, especially mycorrhizal fungi that are providing the fertility to the plants. These fungi attach themselves to plant roots, exude acids that break down nutrients otherwise chemically tied up in the soil (phosphorous most notoriously), and deliver these nutrients to the plants. The plants in turn use a third or even half of the solar energy they transform into carbohydrates to exude food for the fungi. The fungi need this food or they die. So always having living roots in your soil is a good idea. You can take some of the food products attached to those roots out of the system, but it's also good to grow a variety of things that are particularly good for the soil--they are called cover crops or dynamic accumulators. The plants are also feeding bacteria that help transform substances in the soil and air into forms useable by plants. Non-leguminous plants feed varieties of nitrogen fixing bacteria that don't attach themselves to the roots of legumes, if those bacteria are present in the soil. Think of growing a diverse crop of microbes as working to close the fertility loop.

Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, bare-field fallows and tilling are all bad news for these beneficial microbes. Lots of soil organic material is good for them. Fungi extend plant roots much further and into smaller soil pores, making nutrients and more water available to plants. A healthy diverse menagerie of bacteria will include some that support plants' immune systems, the plant hormones that regulate/optimize growth, and complex chemicals like flavanoids and vitamins. A healthy and diverse microbial population flourishes where there are many different kinds of roots. There is research indicating that mycorrhizal networks form connections, even communications between plants, even of different species. There's a lot that is being learned and still to be learned, but it all points to feeding the soil life so that it can help feed us.
 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I agree with much of what's been said already. People discovered crop rotation long ago, and the reasons for it are pretty plain.

If you've watched any bare patch of otherwise living earth, you'll see that if you don't do something with it, nature will. You will see pioneer plants (weeds to the unenlightened) snap up that foothold, so you might as well put in cover crops that include the categories of dynamic accumulators, taprooted species (especially when you have compacted soil), and hosts to nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

Likewise, grazing animals on those cover crops won't hurt, only speed the nutrient cycling process, and multiple species of animal will help to break animal parasite cycles by switching between hosts with which they are incompatible.

As to mycorrhizal fungi and soil microbes, this is the only place I can think of the idea of "resting" applying to soil, but only if we're talking about a regular till operation, where fungi and microbes are regularly disturbed and killed. Tilling is usually kept to a minimum in permaculture, if done at all, so it doesn't really apply.

-CK
 
Ludger Merkens
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Hi,
following this thread, the question enters my mind, if the initial question probably the wrong question. I'd like to modify it and ask - "when do I have to let my land rest?". How do I determine, if my land "needs a break"?

 
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Non sequitur. The idea only applies to destructive ag practices, where the soil is constantly torn up and/or sterilized with chemicals. Even then, soil can be helped back to health faster with intelligent management practices.

-CK
 
Beth Mouse
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Wow--thanks everyone for all the great input! Yes, a kitchen garden is what I had in mind. Even in Permaculture books I have read, they mention and discuss areas for veggie production. gaia's garden has it in keyhole formation. sepp holzer talks about the kitchen garden he had growing up and mentions benefits of having one. Watching videos of geoff lawton, he has raised rows of crops.

Besides the garden area, most of my acre would be fruit and nut trees with polycultures planted around them. I would like currants, Siberian pea, bulbs, blueberries, etc. I worry about raspberries though because they spread so prolifically (in the Boise area anyway). I fear they would take over my place. Is there a type that doesn't spread so badly? I want to have 3 chickens be able to free range around my entire acre and keep a fence around my kitchen garden.

Fallow is an ancient concept and something I am looking into after reading Solomon's books. I could have twice the area like Roxbury Farms does that I mentioned and I believe they grow green manure crops on their fallow land. But Steve mentions grasses, legumes, and herbs for his resting land.

I am interested in the Biointensive gardening method for the veggies in the garden area, but I really don't like digging the soil either. I wonder what results folks have had double-digging once to start and then not digging.

I am excited about the Perma-Orchard movie that is coming out in June of this year. Anyone else seen the trailer about it?

Best, Beth Mouser
 
Walter McQuie
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Location: Northern New Mexico
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I'd like to modify it and ask - "when do I have to let my land rest?". How do I determine, if my land "needs a break"?


I'd modify it further: under what conditions does Nature give land like mine a rest? Here in the high desert the answer is probably along the lines of - when there isn't enough moisture and when it's too cold or hot, and (other than too cold) even then it isn't that nothing is growing, it is just that all processes slow down. In general, if there's enough moisture and the temps are OK, stuff grows. So that's the conditions I try to foster, and then I keep something growing on the land. In some places fire comes through periodically, but it doesn't seem that is a way to give land a rest, but a way to support the plants that have adapted to areas where there is frequent fire.

I've always liked the aphorism: you don't water/feed plants, you water/feed the soil. Plant roots feed the soil and the soil life, even as they are fed in return.
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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The idea of letting land rest, has been put forward by marketing boards as a way of controling problems of over supply. While watching "Green Acres" when I was a kid, we learned that the U.S. government was paying farmers to not grow wheat. Erosion concerns and lack of moisture have been reasons to let land stand idle.

If you're doing a good job and constantly improving the soil, I see no reason why it would need a rest from your efforts.
 
Mike Gaughan
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Location: Central CT, Zone 6
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Beth, check out Eliot Coleman's "New Organic Grower" for info on the use of cover crops and green manures planted with the garden crop to continuously build soil without a lengthy fallow.
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