HomeBusiness Succession Cropping, Companion Cropping, and Intercropping in Organic Crop Production
Succession Cropping, Companion Cropping, and Intercropping in Organic Crop Production
Succession cropping, companion cropping and intercropping in organic crop production – isn’t that quite the mouthful of agricultural jargon? We’re going to explain all these terms and discuss the advantages of each of these methods, so that organic farmers reading this article will learn how to break through jargon and implement these strategies to optimize their yields and increase soil health.Sustainable agriculture aims to use nature as a model for constructing agricultural systems, at least in theory. As nature continuously integrates its plants and animals into a diversified environment, creating and maintaining diversity is a key element of sustainable agriculture. Nature is incredibly efficient as well – that is, in nature, there are no waste products. One organism’s outputs become the inputs for another. When one creature dies, it becomes nourishment for other organisms. Since we’re using nature as a model, let’s take a look at some of the principles that govern its operation. We can use succession cropping, companion cropping and intercropping to cut expenses and boost profitability, while at the same time preserving our land’s resources. However, first, we need to try and understand the integrated complexity of these systems.
Close-up of cover crops growing between rows winter wheat stubble.
Nature is designed with diversity at its core
The landscape changed when early humans began to replace hunting and gathering food with producing crops and animals themselves. In this way, humans have decreased biological diversity over most of the globe by generating a limited number of agricultural plants and animals. Monocultures of annual crops are a classic example. Nature has fought to restore diversity to these environments in reaction to this biological simplification. What we call “weed control” and “pest management” is part of our “war” against nature and its natural inclination to diversity. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to grow any crops if we simply let our fields revert to a higher degree of succession and diversity. However, we can reap some of diversity’s benefits by planting a variety of crops through succession cropping, companion cropping and intercropping, while utilizing crop rotations.
More cooperation than competition
There is far more cooperation in nature than competition. Cooperation is typified by mutually beneficial relationships that occur between species in communities. The symbiotic relationship between beneficial microbes and plants is the driving force in fertile reproductive soils that provide nutrients to plants.Agronomic research has just scratched the surface of soil biology, meaning us humans don’t fully understand the complex mutualisms that exist in the soil between different species. We know that planting legumes together with high nitrogen feeders that utilize residual nitrogen produced by Rhizobium bacteria is beneficial. Yet little is known, for instance, about mutualism between the roots of species and chemical interactions.Nevertheless, three crops have long been at the heart of Native American agriculture and culinary traditions – maize, beans and squash, otherwise known as the “Three Sisters”. These three plants grow symbiotically to resist weeds and pests and enrich the soil. This is companion cropping and intercropping at its finest.
Increased stability with increased diversity
A worked field left over to nature will go through several fluctuations of weeds and grasses, working up to an ideal balance in species variety. As the number of species increases, so does the web of interdependencies.
How can producers aim for diversity?
How might we begin to follow some of these natural principles in our agricultural endeavors? Can we look for and copy patterns in nature? Some pioneering farmers have been able to take advantage of nature’s diversity principles. And their efforts have resulted in lower production costs and higher profitability. Succession cropping, companion cropping and intercropping are some methods we can use to follow these principles of nature. Therefore, we will take a look at them and other alternative cropping methods.
1. What is succession cropping?
Succession cropping entails planting two or more different vegetables in succession in the same garden space within a single growing season. The same logic and procedures that are used to describe crop rotation can also be applied to successions. Succession cropping allows for planting plenty of certain vegetables without disease accumulation. An ambitious producer who is well prepared can, for example, plant four or five separate lettuce crops in a single season. The following is an example of a successful sequence.In early spring, radishes, kohlrabi and turnip greens (mustard family) can be planted. This can be followed by tomatoes and peppers (nightshade family), with the season finished by planting beets, spinach and chard (goosefoot family). Another planting plan may include lettuce in spring, squash in early summer and broccoli in fall. Notice that in each case, the spring and fall crops are always frost-tolerant, cool-season vegetables.
2. How does companion cropping work?
Experienced producers should know that plant diversity, as discussed earlier, makes for healthy plants and successful yields. Many people believe that particular plant pairings have amazing (even mysterious) abilities that aid in the growth of one another. Companion planting has been studied by scientists, and it has been proven that some combinations offer particularly intriguing benefits.Companions assist each other in growing and efficiently using garden space. Tall plants, for example, provide shade for shorter plants that are sensitive to the sun. Vines can blanket the ground while towering stalks grow upwards, allowing two plants to share a patch. When it comes to the “Three Sisters”, corn acts as a pole for the beans, while squash covers the soil and reduces evaporation.Companion cropping is also advantageous when one species deters insect infestation within the primary crop. Insect and pest expansion is limited by species that aren’t conducive to their feeding habits, hence plant diversity suppresses infestations.
3. How does intercropping work?
Intercropping involves growing two or more vegetables or a vegetable with a non-vegetable plant in the same garden space within a single growing season. Here, there are numerous possibilities. It’s best to intercrop members of the same family whenever possible, so as to keep a crop rotation sequence in order.Between rows of cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower, radishes can be sown. The radishes can be harvested way before their slower-growing friends can. What’s more, bibb lettuce or leaf lettuce can be planted between endive and escarole, which grow more slowly. This way, before the endive needs the space, the lettuce will be picked.Intercropping also refers to the practice of spacing different types of vegetables in a way that allows each plant to receive as much light as possible. When the leaves of one plant overlap those of another, the shaded plants develop less vigorously and produce fewer vegetables. Marigolds, for example, should not be interplanted with summer squash or tomatoes. Either the marigolds or the squash will thrive, but not both at the same time. And if you want to get rid of nematodes on your plot, plant sweetcorn – nematodes really don’t like it.
Where does crop rotation fit into the picture?
Crop rotation is essential for the long-term success of both commercial and domestic crop cultivation. Over many years of intensive cultivation, knowledgeable crop growers who adopt crop rotation methods boost the output of their farms. New producers quickly discover that certain vegetables, when planted in the same plot year after year, may grow sick and produce less.Crop rotation refers to a crop production strategy in which crops are planted in a certain order to increase soil health and produce high-quality yields from year to year. When crop rotation is not used, there is an increased chance of soil-borne illnesses, nematodes, soil insects, and lower organic matter.Crops are frequently organized according to families in a rotation, so that individual crops from the same family do not rotate together. The reason for this is that each family has a different effect on conditions that limit field potential; for example, most crops in the same family are susceptible to the same illnesses and insects. The majority of vegetable crops are divided into 10 different families – let’s take a look at them.Beets, chard and spinach belong to the goosefoot family. The mustard family has quite a few members: cabbage, collards, brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnip, and horseradish, to name a few. Carrot, parsley, celery, and parsnip all belong to the parsley family. And the nightshade family encompasses potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. The gourd family claims the vine crops: summer squash, winter squash, pumpkin, watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber. Chicory, endive, salsify, dandelion, lettuce, Jerusalem artichoke, and globe artichoke are all included in the composite family. The lily family includes onion, garlic, leek, and chives. Sweetcorn is a member of the grass family, and last but not least is okra, which is claimed by the mallow family.As we can see, succession cropping, companion cropping and intercropping, as well as crop rotation, can all be intertwined to increase diversity in plant species. Finding the ideal cropping strategy may take some time, but if you continue with succession cropping, companion cropping and intercropping in your organic crop production exploits, you’ll be sure to experience increased yields with diminishing insect and pest infestations. This phenomenon is created over time as the ecosystem stabilizes and performs increasingly to our desired output.