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Reasonable crop rotation?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 54
Location: Southern Michigan
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Hello, I'm looking for advice/tips on crop rotation for a few select crops.  I'm trying to make a long term garden plan (goal) to replace my willy-nilly rows and I'd like to grow corn, potatoes, mixed gains for poultry feeding and sunflowers in large rectangles (10x25) instead of in the long raised beds.

My current plan is to set up 4 of these rectangular beds and rotate this cycle-
1. (Amended prior fall)-Corn/cucumbers?
2. (Unamended except pH check)- Potatoes
3. (Unamended)-Sunflowers/Pumpkins
4. (Unamended_-Oats/Vetch/ Annual Grains anything to increase soil structure and help feed chickens.

Another thing I've considered is adding some clover or other mowable ground cover. I'm not happy with the corn grown on its own, I have heavy weed pressure and it was way to much work but I'm open to suggestions for companions.  My ONLY equipment is a wheelbarrow with accompanying hand tools, regular mowers, a garden tiller and a broadfork I'm hoping to get for my birthday!

Zone 6B, medium clay soil with high nutrient contents, low organic matter and calcium and 7.9pH7.2pH!


Thank You!
 
pollinator
Posts: 1536
Location: Denver, CO
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I'd add at least one legume into the rotation; green or dry beans, for example. A clover cover crop might work, but I don't have any experience with that.

Also, cucumbers and pumpkins are related, as are corn and oats, so there is not that much diversity in the rotation; I'd try to include some more rotations into non-related crops, such as the above mentioned legume. I'd put the cucumbers and pumpkins in the same slot.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2064
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Hi Grace. Welcome.

Your ideas for crop rotation sound good, but I don't know if they're compatible the way you've arranged it. Also, with that high a soil pH, you're going to need to do some amendment.

Most crops prefer a slightly acidic soil, and potatoes prefer it more acidic, like between (if I am remembering correctly) 4.5 and 6.5 pH.

Were I you, I would see if there are any alkaline-loving crops you might plant at the start. I am not positive, but I think asparagus is one such, and alfalfa, but you should doublecheck that. Growing alkaline-loving crops will cause the acidity of the soil to drop over time. Also, alfalfa is deeply taprooted and a host to nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

If you are determined to grow acid-loving crops, then you will have to amend your soil pH.

Do you have the results of a soil analysis that you could show us? That would help a lot. Is your clay soil calcium deficient?

In any case, I would suggest that you find a good source of organic matter. Wood chips would be great. I would drop them right on top. If you had compost, I would add that too, right on top. If your soil is calcium deficient, I would add gypsum. I would then broad fork it all such that some of the rock dusts and organic matter sift down a bit into the soil. Incidentally, if you have access to coffee grounds, I would drop those on top, too, before broad forking. Worms love coffee grounds, and if you're lucky, they will be doing most of the grunt work for you.

In terms of crop rotation, I like to look at companion planting lists after I have chosen the key species I want to base my plantings around.

If you are going to grow corn, I would suggest looking at the Three Sisters planting technique, whereby you grow corn primarily, which acts as a support for pole beans you grow in the same spot, which host nitrogen-fixing bacteria to feed the corn and the squash/pumpkin, whose broad leaves act as living mulch, cutting down soil evaporation and sunlight availability for weeds.

I have heard that the Three Sisters are primarily good for producing dried crops, but spacing the corn on 18-inch centres, I find I have enough room to move around individual stalks to harvest the sweet variety. At worst, I have found that my beans dry out, so I have taken to planting them with that purpose in mind.

I have heard that there are disease issues surrounding following corn after solanaceae, and potato is one such. I would look into this.

Pumpkins are heavy feeders. I don't know if yours will do well following your corn and cucumbers, which are also heavy feeders. If you plant clovers in between rows, that might help, but I would make sure I was planting a nitrogen-fixing bacteria host crop along with my heavy feeders.

If you could let us know a bit more, the suggestions you get will be more useful to you.

In any case, please let us know, and keep us posted as to your progress. Good luck!

-CK
 
Posts: 7
Location: Southern Tier NY
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Chris-

Can you be more specific about diseases in the corn crop when following solanaceae plantings?  (so that's a problem with corn after Potatoes?  should I expect similar problems with potatoes after corn?)

I am plotting out a 4 year rotation, with winter cover crops and manure fertilization... I thought potatoes would be a good plant to follow the three sisters.
(three sisters), (potato, peas, and early season cabbage), (some grain), (our veg garden).  
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
Posts: 2064
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I think it might have been mosaic. Not positive.

I think an issue in the specific case I was dealing with that isn't present here is the tomato issue. Potatoes don't feed as heavily as tomatoes, which was part of my problem.

So if the corn is grown with beans, a curcurbit, or a variety of curcurbits, could grow with them, and if the soil isn't too depleted, the potato guild shouldn't have a problem afterwards.

-CK
 
Grace Gierucki
Posts: 54
Location: Southern Michigan
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Thanks for the replies everyone.  My main crops that need to grow in these beds are the corn (always dried corn, not sweet), sunflowers (mammoth), potatoes and anything that can feed/bed  poultry and conditions the soil. I do grow about 30 other vegetable varieties but not in these beds. Every 3 years I will skip the corn and replace it with something else when my neighbor plants an entire 40 with his field corn.
    You asked for the report and as I was looking at it I realized I was wrong about the pH, it's only 7.2 so thats a better place to start!  I was going to post it but I can't figure out how. The report says the Calcium is  high but my tomatoes have trouble utilizing it.  Is there a secret to unlocking it? I am very low in K, Zn, Cu and something labeled P1Bray. Mg is a little low. Of course the report says the NPK levels are all zero.

    I will work on bringing the pH down in all the beds if I can.  I am trying to find a neighbor who will sell me sulfur or gypsum from their bulk delivery.  It's so cheap to buy in bulk in Michigan (about $60 a 1/2 ton) but ridiculous to have delivered or buy from garden stores in bags. Maybe it would be worth renting a truck and driving up to get it? In my clay soil I would have to grow an acid-leeching crop for many years before it makes a noticeable difference but alfalfa is definitely something I could put in the "cover year" slot if I can just weed whack or mow it down at the end of the season. I do have access to wood chips, leaves and 3 acres of weeds just waiting to be knocked down but can't afford to buy much compost or expensive organic additives and it eats up an awful lot of time moving large quantities of bulky material in a wheelbarrow.  
    This is my third season on this soil and the only total failures have been celery (never again) and the three sisters. I think my corn was too widely spaced and too much ground was left exposed, I got very poor pollination rates on everything.  The next year they all did well separately so I'm hesitant to try combining them again.  I only chose cucumbers with the corn because they supposedly are repellant to raccoons which are, of course, a huge problem but I also have the electric wire available this year and 5,000 volts should slow them down.  I'm very open to other suggestions for companions as long as they are able to be fed to poultry, eaten by us or are a green manure that can be mown down easily. I will say that anything that has trouble with cabbage moths cannot be grown in these beds because they must be covered because we have a huge amount of trouble with the moths.
    My sunflowers are so tall that for a majority of our season they actually don't shadow their own feet much and I have successfully grown winter squash and pumpkins under them before but do radishes need totally full sun? I could skip the vines and put some in between rows and leave them to rot overwinter to help with compaction. I suppose I could pull the sunflowers out of this rotation and replace it with something more soil conditioning if I need to but I would rather not.  I don't want them shadowing anywhere else in the garden but if you guys think these beds absolutely need another year of cover crops I could try.  Or I could pull up the fencing and make another plot but I promised myself I wouldn't.
   I basically ordered these in descending nutrient needs, I have enough composted chicken manure to do one of these beds each fall.  I am aware that pumpkins are heavy feeders but they are a very secondary crop and have usually done alright in completely unamended soil.  I just plant a lot of seeds and hope for the best, we don't eat many but the chickens love them.

Would it be better if I ran potatoes first, sunflowers, corn then cover last?
Thanks everyone, Seeding time starts in 4 weeks!
 
Posts: 6
Location: Colorado, cold semi-arid climate, Zone 5b
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Good stuff Grace!  I also agree with Gilbert on implementing legumes in your polyculture, they are nitrogen fixers.  You're going to have plenty of organic matter if you chop and drop.  Sunflowers will help your corn, and pumpkins are cucurbits so they will also work well in a three sisters guild.  Your potatoes will benefit from horseradish, peas, & garlic.

This got me thinking:  Should one change cover crops from season to season when planning a crop rotation?  So let's say you plant your three sisters garden, and after harvest you chop n' drop, then plant clover as your cover.  In the next year you switch from corn, beans, & squash to brassicas.  Are you going to want to change out the clover for a cover crop after the 2nd year's harvest?
 
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