Gardening can be a real pain in the ass…er, I mean back. As you saw in my last article on the health benefits of gardening, I already come to it with some unpleasant memories of having to go out in the family garden as a kid and pull weeds. Furthermore, many plants and seemingly in particular, vegetables, simply require a lot of care to grow successfully.
If you’ve had or worked in a garden, you probably know these struggles all too well. What if I told you there was an easier way – a better solution?
That’s what you’ll learn in this article.
You’ll learn a bit about something known as “Alley Cropping” … how it can be a good alternative or addition to your traditional gardening.
Why would you want to do Alley Cropping in the first place?
Good question. As I alluded to earlier, you’ll want to do Alley Cropping simply because it’s a more sustainable and hands-off approach to growing plants.
That means you spend less time tending to your plants – as you would in a typical garden. Once you have your Alley Crops in place and going, they are much less work to maintain.
I don’t know about you but I certainly like the idea of spending less time and effort on plants.
With Alley Cropping, there’s not much in the way of pulling weeds and standing up flimsy plants. Depending on your environment and the plants, you may not even have to water them so much.
One other big benefit you can get from Alley Cropping is: MONEY. As in CASH CROPS. Again this totally depends on what plant you have but this is what I learned to be the typical setup.,.you generally put some kind of high-margin, money-making plant that bears fruit in there.
Yes, indeed, Alley Cropping can be much easier than your typical garden.
What the heck is Alley Cropping?
Good question. Unfortunately I don’t know all that much about it because I only spent a few days helping out with it. But I did take a lot of pictures so that you can see the evolution of its creation.
Rather than give you my own fabricated definition of Alley Cropping, I put faith in my good friend, Google, and here’s what it said:
Alley Cropping is planting rows of trees at wide spacings with a companion crop grown in the alleyways between the rows. Alley cropping can diversify farm income, improve crop production and provide protection and conservation benefits to crops.
That all sounds good to me…but it’s still a little vague so you’ll have to dig a little deeper…
Common examples of alley cropping plantings include wheat, corn, soybeans or hay planted in between rows of black walnut or pecan trees. Non-traditional or value added crops may also be incorporated for extra income, including sunflowers or medicinal herbs planted in between rows of nut trees alternated with nursery stock trees. Fine hardwoods like walnut, oak, ash, and pecan are favored tree species in alley cropping systems and can potentially provide high value lumber or veneer logs while income is derived from a companion crop planted in the alleyways.
Cool, now you have a better idea of what Alley Cropping is all about. So, then, what did we do while I was at Gaia?
Jason’s Experience with Alley Cropping at Gaia Ecovillage
Tom showed a few short videos and taught us about Alley Cropping – a way of planting using trees for shade and other plants that generate rich soil and thus requires less upkeep over time. One of the videos was “Inga Alley Cropping” after the Inga trees more commonly used in Africa.
So, aside from spreading seeds, we did some prep work for the Alley Cropping by collecting recently cut leaves from various trees including bamboo and banana.
This was all part of the soil preparation and it was definitely a bit of work. There were probably as many as 10 of us working on this at any given time for a few hours at a time.
Alley Cropping is like making a sandwich – or lasagna!
We gathered up a bunch of materials that we eventually layered on top of one another to create a fertile environment for trees, fruits and vegetables.
As I noted at the time: “It’s a sort of lasagna protocol for agriculture that, once in place, should require little maintenance and human intervention.”
The layers included soil, cardboard / paper, green plant materials, straw, manure, water and dried plant materials.
As you can see in the photos we stacked all the layers, repeated the layers and then repeated again. So I guess it really is more like making lasagna than a sandwich!
Finally we planted some trees that will grow and provide shade for the other plants that go in between.
That’s all you get for now. In the next article you’ll learn about peeing on the food forest…
Here are some more photos: