The “Real Fields on Real Farms” tables can be downloaded below:
On the tables, the year and season are noted in the left-hand columns, and the sequence of crops is presented in one column for each farm’s sample field. These tables are color coded to show each crop’s botanical family. A few of the sequences include mulch applications, but most of the plans do not indicate other aspects of production such as compost applications and tillage operations, which many of the farmers indicated were integral to their rotation management.
The differences between the rotations are striking. Note that no one pattern characterizes the rotations on these successful, expertly managed organic vegetable and field crop farms. Also notice that some fields or beds are subdivided among different crops at certain points in the rotation sequence. At the next planting they are cycled back and managed as single field units.
Examples of Conventional Rotation Wisdom
- Avoid planting the same crop family in the same field too often.
- Alternate cover crops with cash crops.
- Alternate deep-rooted crops with shallow, fine-rooted crops.
- Precede heavy feeders with nitrogen-fixing cover crops.
- Avoid following a root crop with another root crop.
Expert Farmer Profiles
These profiles reflect the status of the farms and farmers in 2002, when the information on the sample sequences was collected. Of course, farms (and faces) have evolved since the 2002 workshop, but the general character of the sequences and the farmers remains unchanged:
- On Four Winds Farm in Gardiner, New York, Polly Armour has been growing vegetables with her husband, Jay, on three acres for 15 years. They use the rest of their land for grazing poultry and cattle. They run a small CSA and also market to restaurants, wholesalers, and at farmers’ markets.
- In Argyle, New York, Paul Arnold owns Pleasant Valley Farm. For 14 years, he and his wife, Sandy, have raised vegetable crops on five acres. They market almost exclusively through local farmers’ markets. The Arnolds have graciously hosted many organic farming events, including the NEON rotation workshop.
- David Blyn farms on 12 acres in Roxbury, Connecticut. For 13 years, his operation has sold vegetables at farmers’ markets, wholesale outlets, and through a CSA.
- Village Acres Farm in Miflintown, Pennsylvania, is a 30- acre farm owned by Roy Brubaker. Farming with his family, he has marketed vegetables, berries, and flowers for 20 years through farmers’ markets, the Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative, and, more recently, through a CSA.
- Jean–Paul Courtens farmed 150 acres with 30 acres in cash crops in Kinderhook, New York, for 13 years. He runs a 650-member CSA.
- In Bridgewater, Maine, Jim Gerritsen has been raising seed potatoes that are available by mail order and through wholesale markets. Wood Prairie Farm spans 45 acres and has been in business for 26 years. Jim understands the challenges of rotation on a farm with only one important cash crop.
- Even Star Organic Farm in Lexington, Maryland, is farmed by Brett Grohsgal. He cultivates 10 acres and manages 100. A former chef, Brett sells to ten restaurants, four grocery stores, a university, and at two farmers’ markets.
- Jack Gurley has been farming on five acres in Spark, Maryland, for nine years. His farm, Calvert’s Gift Farm, sells vegetables through its CSA to restaurants, at farmers’ markets, on the farm, and with other organic growers through a cooperative.
- Kretschmann Farm is a 650-member CSA in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Don Kretschmann has been farming for 28 years and sells his produce wholesale, as well as running the CSA.
- On One Straw Farm in Maryland, Drew Norman has been growing vegetables for 18 years. One hundred acres are in vegetables and another hundred in hay at any given time. One Straw Farm supplies vegetables for a CSA, farmers’ markets, and wholesale outlets.
- Eero Ruuttila of Nesenkeag Farm in Litchfield, New Hampshire, has been growing vegetables on 40 acres for 16 years. He markets to restaurants, restaurant wholesalers, food banks, and a newly formed multi-farm CSA.
- Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, Vermont, spans 82 acres and has 10 acres in vegetables in any given year. Will Stevens has been farming for 21 years and sells his crops through a CSA, on-farm sales, farmers’ markets, food cooperatives, and local restaurants.
- Anne and Eric Nordell grow vegetables on seven acres of Beech Grove Farm in northern Pennsylvania. For over 22 years, they have relied on horses and their own labor to supply several farmers’ markets.
- In Penn-Yan, New York, Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens farm approximately 1,200 acres, raising grain, soybeans, and processing vegetables. In addition, they operate an organic feed mill and seed processing facility for local producers. They began farming organically in 1992.
- John Myer is one of the pioneers of certified organic grain production in New York. He has been farming organically since 1982 and raises soybeans, wheat, spelt, corn, alfalfa, dry beans, and clover seed, along with beef cattle, on 880 acres in Ovid, New York.
- Ed Fry operates Fair Hills Farm in Chestertown, New Jersey, on 550 rented acres. A dairy farmer for 42 years, he began organic grain and hay production in 1997. He sells organic feed in addition to operating a 150-cow dairy.
Northeast Growers’ Rules of Thumb
We asked numerous organic growers to share their crop sequencing “rules of thumb.” These illustrate the common practices of many organic growers. Some sequences have been scientifically tested, and others have not.
Below is a sampling of some of their recommended crop “couplets.” These are simply rules of thumb that individual farmers use in their own rotation planning. All farmers do not use the same couplets because of variation between farms in cropping practices, pest and weed pressures, marketing strategies, climate, length of season, and other factors. Growers’ rationales for these couplets include (1) disease and pest management, (2) fertility management, (3) weed management, (4) double cropping, and (5) seedbed preparation. Many rules relate to the nightshade family, perhaps because it is prone to problems that can be managed by crop rotation.
- Grow winter cover crops before late-planted crops to accumulate organic matter and nitrogen.
- Grow winter-killed cover crops (oat-pea) before early-season crops, so the seedbed will be easy to prepare.
- Never grow any crop after itself.
Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants):
- Grow tomatoes after peas, lettuce, or spinach, because tomatoes take a lot out of the soil.
- Grow lettuce before potatoes, because it is a light feeder and an aboveground crop.
- Grow legume cover crops before potatoes or corn, so that they can feed the crops.
- Grow potatoes before crops that are poor competitors, because potato production involves aggressive cultivation and further working of the soil during harvest, both of which reduce weed pressure.
- Avoid growing potatoes before corn, because both are heavy feeders.
- Be cautious when growing bell pepper before another vegetable crop, because of diseases.
- Avoid planting potatoes after corn, because of wireworm problems.
Grasses, Corn, and Grains:
- Grow beans after corn to rebuild nitrogen.
- Avoid growing legumes before small grains to prevent lodging.
- Use a summer fallow after onions, because usually there are many weeds.
Lettuce and Crops in the Beet and Spinach Family:
- Grow peas before fall greens, because there is time for double cropping, and fall greens benefit from the nitrogen fixed by the peas.
- Grow a root crop like beets after lettuce or cabbage.