I’m having a little trouble sorting through our records to find when this started, but somewhere around 2010, which would have been our fifth year in Amherst, we started into a new crop rotation. We thought we had gotten our vegetable production to the scale that made sense for the farm, and wanted to work in having about a quarter of our cropland in pasture every year as a way of building soil fertility. To make our “idealized crop rotation,” we put all of our crops in a spreadsheet and played “Vegetable Soduku,” with rules like not repeating crop families, and not putting weed-susceptible crops after crops that tend to get weedy. We have followed that rotation for the past 10 years, and over time, it has shifted so that that original “idealized” rotation has little resemblance to what we currently do.
Now, as we transition into a reduced- to no-tillage, we need to go back to that old Soduku game for another match. Our next phase of no-till development will come into play this year, as we have been awarded a grant to purchase equipment for a “cut-and-carry” mulch system. This system will allow us cut mulch from cover crop or pasture, and then spread it over an area where we plan to grow crops, making a thick mulch layer that will (hopefully) supress weeds and allow the crops to grow. This in turn requires a whole new layer of planning, as we need to grow enough cover crops and pasture to have it ready when we are ready to plant these mulched crops. The cover crops are often started the fall before they put on most of their growth, so we need to know where things will be next year. The no-till system is also allowing us to shrink the acreage that we need for some crops, especially if we double- or triple- crop a given spot, so the whole rotation is ready to be redone. So far, we have a lot of information on some of the rules of what can follow what, but we are still working on putting it all together into a comprehensive rotation. Somehow or other, we’ll have plenty of food for you for next year; it’s a fun puzzle to figure out how exactly it will come together.