Cover Crops crop rotation Organic Gardening

Organic on a large scale – Does it work?

From time to time I come across comments from people —even on “organic” forums that go on about how the world “needs” chemical, conventional agriculture to feed the world population. They don’t see organic farming as something that will work on a larger scale than home gardening.

Many have one foot in their “organic” garden – and have the other foot in the chemical world when they deem they have need for it.


Probably there are many who really want to believe organic gardening is the way that would supply plenty of food to the world but they’ve never looked for the proof to really hang their hat on —- so they’re still sitting on the fence.

I’ll bet we can all agree that it’s much easier to go forward with something  when you know whole hardily that it’s the right way and that it will work.  It’s just easier to be on the bus or off the bus.

Lights Throughout the “chemical revolution” that Prove Working with Nature Works

As one studies the history of agriculture it’s interesting that in every generation for the past 125 years or more since chemicals came on the scene big-time — there are plenty of examples of men and women who have been a light in proving that organic, biodynamic and sustainable agriculture (in other words – working with nature)  is less costly, more profitable, easier, and gets better results than conventional agriculture.

Why then — are the vast majority going the way of chemicals?

Chemical companies have always controlled conventional agriculture.  Their bottom line (how much money they make) depends on the populace believing in chemicals and drugs (so they will buy and become dependent upon them).

In today’s world chemical companies are still in control. They have the money to control the media and even the government agencies having to do with food and agriculture.  So if you’re looking to main-stream media for truth in almost any subject — you most likely won’t find it.

A Modern Day Example of Success as an Organic Farmer

On a website that is maintained by the national outreach office of Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education I found the success story of Bob Quinn, organic farmer in Big Sandy, Montana.

It starts off with a grabber that would be of interest to any market gardener or farmer:

“— Bob Quinn hasn’t borrowed operating capital from the bank for 10 years. Without hefty bills for agrichemicals at planting — and with an effective year-round marketing program — his cash flow is more stable than it was in the mid-1980s, before he began converting his 3,000 acres to organic.”

The dry land farm raises organic barley, buckwheat, wheats, and lentils.

They have no large livestock operations nearby to supply healthy manure — so their only way to improve their soil is green manure. Mr. Quinn attributes the farm’s profitability to soil building and pest-thwarting by using alfalfa and clover in four to five year rotations with their crops.

Green-manure crops are also used for weed-control which Mr. Quinn says “works as we’ll as conventional spraying.—-I think the rotation and soil-building program we have in place allows a great diversity in soil biology, and that’s what keeps the pests in place.”

Why only a Few Follow his Example

As with all organic successes in the past — only a handful of farmers will follow the profitable and healthful example of Mr. Quinn’s farm.  He knows that most farmers are locked into the conventional way. They don’t want to transition to organic because they may experience lower yields for the transition period.

And he knows the other main reason too: The word being spread by agrichemical companies — and still coming down through traditional educational circles — is “that this (success without chemicals) is not real.”

That’s a Lie. It is real.

And is does work. It always has —- because that’s the way nature intended it to work.

As Mr. Quinn said “It takes a lot more management and thinking ahead. So if you aren’t careful with your weeds, you can easily let them get ahead of you, and if you aren’t careful with your rotations, the system won’t work properly.”

The Payoff for Working with Nature

But here’s what many will consider to be the best part of what Mr. Quinn said about the farmers who make it work —
“It puts us in a position to be paid a livelihood by the consumers rather than relying on government payments — and I think that’s a very big plus.”

How can YOU benefit from What Mr. Quinn is doing?

It’s my understanding that Mr. Quinn has 4 crops plus his green manures/covers of alfalfa and clover which he rotates in 4 to 5 year rotations.

To try to benefit from Mr. Quinn’s success, I’m going to use more than just one cover crop.  For example, if I plant a vegetable crop in a bed this year and follow it with buckwheat — then next year I’m going to plant another vegetable crop in that bed and follow it with any cover crop other than buckwheat.

I hope you’ll join me.


Related Posts:

A Readers Thoughts and Mine – Some Facts to Consider about Scotts

Monsanto – Don’t Entrust Your Life to Them


Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.


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  • I’m on board Theresa! I’m off out today to plant my field peas. I’d never even heard of field peas before starting to read here at TMG. This is a great story, and it is encouraging to read. We need to be reminded of these successes because the media is always ‘reminding’ us via advertising, that we NEED chemicals. Thanks for this interesting profile.

  • Thank you for writing so much about cover crops. I am so excited to try them for improving my soil. If it had not been for you I would not have known about cover crops. I have no access to large quantities of ORGANIC compost or ORGANIC manure, only got kitchen scraps, lots of leaves and the usual garden stuff. I have buckwheat growing now in the bed where the fall tomatoes will go in (I am in Florida). Then just started cowpeas in another bed which won’t be used until mid September for the cool weather crops. Those are all raised beds. The other one is still occupied. And I have sunn hemp growing in regular small garden area with poor soil and I plan to plant another cover crop over winter (probably rye) to loosen soil and enrich the soil. And I probably will plant a summer cover crop and then a winter cover crop in an out of the way area just to either add to my composting pile of leaves or more likely to use as a mulch. I have learned so much from your gardening advice.

  • I’ll be interested in hearing what other cover crops you use in between plantings. Seems like buckwheat is the easiest to manage, but like you, I want to diversify.

  • Yes, I agree Sandra — we need to hear the good stuff. When the wrong stuff and incorrect stuff is repeated often enough — most people accept it as truth even though nothing could be further from the truth.

    Dagmar, I’m so pleased that my writing has been of help to you. And I know from my situation that it is very encouraging to know that we can have great soil without access to healthful manure and bagged compost.

    You are to be congratulated on not just “reading” and “hearing” but taking action by planting different cover crops! (Many folks read and then dismiss the information.)

    I have a small section outside the garden than I plan for cover crops to use for composting and as mulch —- like you mentioned doing. I’ll think of you when I’m planting that section.

    Buckwheat is indeed the easiest cover crop to manage, Gayle. But as long as we plan ahead — the others can be easy as well — just different — and requiring a little planning.
    I’ve got white clover coming up in some of my beds now — as a cover and in some places as an underplanting. (Like under tomatoes.)

    Buckwheat and clover are good between crops and with crops because they’re so fast.
    Rye, oats, forage radish, and alfalfa take a bit more time and usually need to be planted after the crops are out of the bed —- unless you want to spot plant between larger plants like tomatoes. Not a bad idea with a little planning.


  • Theresa ~ I am learning about cover crops as well ~ one of my questions is what will grow in my garden bed after my summer vegetables? I live in NW Oregon where it RAINS hard right about the time my veggies finish. And we do get a little snow and frost about November. So, there isn’t much sunlight to get a crop to grow at the end of summer. How would I find out what might make it and enrich the soil?


  • Toni, I don’t know first hand what will do best for you since I don’t live in Oregon. However, I did a quick google search for “what cover crops are used in NW Oregon” and quickly glanced at a few results.
    Here’s just a bit of what I found:
    “Cover crops also are called catch crops. In the rainy art of Oregon, this might e one of the more economical reason for planting a cover crop, A growing grass or legume crop catches and use the nitrogen and other mineral nutrients that winter rains normally leach away.”
    some tables contain covers to plant and approximate dates
    scroll to see this list of possibles to plant and when

    After you do your search and get more details and choose a few you think you’d like to try, write to me and let me know and I can give you more information to help you narrow down the choice.

    You won’t know what’s going to do best for you until after you try a few, but we’ll take an educated guess at which one would be best after you’ve done your search.

    Glad you’re going to take action Toni!

  • I wonder if you can plant a cover between broccoli, kale, collards and which cover crop. Probably clover? I got crimson. Now to be able to get a good cover crop between these vegetables I probably would have to plant the crop pretty close to the kale etc. since I do square foot gardening and probably use one sqft per plant.

  • I plant covers between my larger plants a lot, Dagmar. I find it most beneficial. Try it and see what happens —- you can fine tune your strategy as you go along. Clover should be a good one to start with. If it gets a bit too tall (as crimson clover sometimes does) you can just cut it back a bit. I’ve underplanted tomatoes with crimson clover and had to cut it back, and it still did the job.

    As I said, you’ll have to fine tune your strategy as you go along — and that includes determining how close you can plant. You want your main crop up and running a bit so that the cover crop will not overtake them. Also – I would suggest keeping covers at least 6 inches from the stems of your main crops especially while they’re small. It won’t take long watching them before you see what needs to be done.


  • Help! 911 emergency! I live in Georgia and the kudzu bugs are on the attack again and my organic sprays and dust do NOT work. They are all over my beans and butter beans! Any help on this? Thanks, Donna

  • Donna, I’m sorry to hear of your problems with the kudzu bugs. From what I read it is recently new to this country. It’s native countries are India and China. It’s in the stink bug family.

    I’ve always found that hand killing works better than sprays on just about anything. It’s not fun or pleasant, but in the long run it gets the job done.

    I told the story before of the year the bean beetles literally demolished my beans in a matter of days and the beans were covered with them. I bagged all the bugs and beans — every bit of residue — everything — sealed the bag — put it in sun (kills the bugs) and took the sealed bags to the trash.

    The next bean crop was fine.

    This idea of a “trap crop” might work for you Donna — or at least be a step in the right direction.

    Work to make sure your crops are as stress-free as possible. That means the healthiest garden you can manage. That will help.



  • I had a bag of fava bean seeds I wasn’t using anywhere else. Early July I sowed them between the rows where I planned to transplant my kale plants in Mid-August. Thanks to a rainy spell recently, the little kale plants and the cover crop of fava beans are both doing fine. The kale will be harvested in the winter, and the cover crop will keep the soil relatively warm until then. I also planted a patch of mixed fava and phacelia in beds where I plan to put black currant bushes in the fall. The beneficials love this type of cover crop.

  • Sounds like you have some nice diversity going on Millard. I ordered my phacelia the first of the year and it didn’t work to plant it — but I will — and can hardly to see how it does for me.

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