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Garden rotation at Potawot Food Gardens
Crop Rotation is a gardening practice in which different crops are planted in different areas of the field each year to prevent soil deterioration. This method can improve soil fertility and structure with the right technique. The herb and vegetable gardens at Potawot Indian Health Facility Potawot use the method of crop rotation as a part of their organic gardening routine.
Why is it Important?
Rotating crops is an important part of sustainable organic gardening. Without crop rotation the soil is weakened by one crop repeatedly, season after season, taking out specific nutrients from the soil. Also without crop rotation specific pests and pathogens will build up in the crop growing area. Soil weakening can be avoided by changing the crops season to season because the different crops pull out different nutrients from the soil and attract different pests and pathogens. A poster from World War II explains the basics of crop rotation in Figure 2. During that time when many citizens had victory gardens crop rotation was essential because pesticides were not available during rationing.
Plants in different taxonomic groups are rotated to ward off pests. These taxonomic groups are divided into the groups heavy feeders, light feeders and soil improvers. Heavy feeders deplete the soil nutrients and must be followed with light feeders or soil improvers. Light feeders also deplete the soil nutrients but to a lesser extent and must be followed by either light feeders or soil improvers. Soil improvers do exactly what they say they do and can follow any of the three catagories, i.e. the only group that heavy feeders can follow as well as light feeders and soil improvers. Figure 3 explains which group can follow which group. These designations generally mean deep-rooted plants are rotated with shallow rooted plants. Also, certain plants renew different nutrients i.e. legumes (like a kidney bean or lentil) replenish nitrates in the ground. The microorganisms in the legume's roots return the nitrates . Cereals need nitrate rich soil, therefore it is beneficial to plant legumes before cereals. In ideal conditions it is best to wait three years to plant the same crop in the same location again. Crop rotation techniques ultimately vary depending on the soil quality, precipitation and climate. A sample crop rotation chart can be viewed at Figure 4.
The different families are as follows
- Legume (Peas, Fava Beans, ect.) Soil Improvers
- Mint (Basil, Sage, ect.) Soil Improvers
- Alliums (Onions, Garlic, ect.) Heavy Feeders
- Grass (wheat, Rice, ect.) Heavy Feeders
- Nightshade (Eggplant, Tomatoes, ect.) Heavy Feeders
- Umbel (Carrot, Dill, ect.) Light Feeders
- Composite (Lettuce, Artichokes, ect.) Heavy Feeders
- Crucifer (Radishes, Turnips, ect.) Light Feeders
- Goosefoot (Beets, Chard, ect.) Light Feeders
- Squash (Winter Squash, Pumpkins, ect.) Heavy Feeders
At Potawot  crop rotation is implemented to maintain an organic pesticide free garden. The gardens grow a variety of different crops including artichokes, sugar snap peas, broccoli, carrots, celery, chard, tomatoes and many others. Unique to the small organic farm, strawberries are grown every year in a different part of the field. Every winter a cover crop is grown to replenish the soil nutrients. Crop rotation charts are kept from previous seasons and utilized to plan the crops for next season. The most important rule in planning the next seasons crops is never to plant a crop in the same location until 3 years later. The charts also work to rotate cover crops throughout the garden to restore nutrients into the soil for future growing. Then the rotation charts are displayed in the blue volunteer house [] showing in what week and what row to plant the crops. There are four main fields with varying number of rows in each. Figure 5,6 and 7 show the top two fields and their rotation cycles for three consecutive seasons.
Update October 2014
Potawot’s community food garden has been maintained quite well over the years with a variety of crops thriving and ready for harvest. In speaking to Ed, the main caretaker of the garden, we learned about the different events and workshops that occur throughout the year. The garden has successfully executed its main mission of providing the UIHS patients with organic produce via the seasonal (either weekly or biweekly) farmer’s market. It hosts a few soil workshops in the spring and also holds cooking demonstrations that focus on using the ingredients provided by the garden. Another neat feature is the kids’ garden on the backside complete with a pumpkin patch. The garden regularly hosts events for the kids under the Two Feathers program under the UIHS. The garden is a total of 2 acres and provides the crops for the facility’s farmer’s market on a seasonal basis.
The crops that are harvested come from two main areas, the main outdoor garden and the greenhouses. The outdoor garden has an ample selection of plants that tolerate harsh winters due to the cold and rainy weather conditions in the north coast. Currently in the garden there are plenty of vegetables and greens to choose from including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, green beans, brussel sprouts, rainbow carrots, swiss chard, cilantro, lettuce (5 star, sierra nevada), kale(red russian, dinosaur, curly) and more (see figure 9, 10, and main image). On the sides there are also bushes of raspberries and blackberries filled with a number of berries that are ready to be picked. The appearance of the outdoor garden is well manicured, with a bounty of flowers greeting one at the entrance and leading the way into the greenhouse area. There are four green houses in the garden (see figure 11), each designated for a different set of crops or purpose. The green houses contain a rich variety of peppers including bell peppers, banana peppers, habaneros, and jalapeños and also house the garden’s supply of tomatoes, basil and onions. One of the greenhouses is used for sprouting seeds as well as the nursery of the garden. Once the seeds sprout and the plants grow in the nursery they are then transplanted outdoor in the heart of the garden. Another greenhouse will be undergoing maintenance following the season’s harvest of tomatoes.
There appears to be an abundance of crops in both the outdoor garden as well as the green houses to the point where there were fallen peppers and tomatoes neglected despite their decent conditions. The quality of the vegetables and greens were superb without any visible diseases or defects. No signs of any pests were visible outdoor or indoor which indicates a balance of persistent maintenance as well as proper crop rotation. All plants in the garden appeared to be in optimal health with proper access to sunlight, water and nutrients. The only minor issue with maintenance came in the form of neglect. There were a few cilantro and broccoli plants that had not been removed despite having bolted (although Ed did mention that they left that purposefully for the bees). There were occasional overgrown bushes but overall the conditions of the garden have been kept in an optimal state.
For more images please click the following link or copy and paste into your browser: https://www.dropbox.com/sc/ub0l7edmqy5uzrj/AADOPqKpi-1AWdMwLtlZYmiMa
Figures 1-6: Outdoor garden
Figures 7-11: Inside the greenhouses
Figure 12: Kids' garden
You may also refer to Martha Ayon & Charlotte Spassoff's Slideshare with the following link: http://www.slideshare.net/CharlotteSpassoff/potawot-wellness-and-food-garden
"Gardening With The Helpful Gardener." Helpful Gardener. <http:/http://www.helpfulgardener.com/organic/2006/crop.html>.
Tanner, Eddie. The Humboldt Kitchen Gardener. Arcata, CA: Eddie Tanner, 2008. 16-31.
Shonnie, Eddie. Personal Contact. 28 October 2008.
"Potawot Community Food Gardens." California Area Indian Health Services. Federal Health Program for American Indians and Native Alaskans. 28 Oct. 2008
Ogden, Shepherd. Straight-Ahead Organic : A Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Great Vegetables in a Less Than Perfect World. New York: Chelsea Green, 1999.
Writer: Meghan Heintz Email: Msh37@humboldt.edu