Diversity is key to keeping agricultural land nutrient-rich and sustainable for farming. Cultivators who do not take the devastating effects of mono-cropping, the practice of growing the same crop year after year, into consideration are prone to being left with weak, infertile soil. Because of this, farmers must utilize harmful chemical fertilizers and other unnatural methods to ensure conduciveness and consistent crop yields.
Breaking the vicious cycle that comes with mono-cropping requires planting companion crops after a certain period (rotation cropping) or simultaneously planting various companion crops on the same field (intercropping). Today, we’ll explore both options for outdoor growers who are interested in long-term cannabis cultivation strategies.
Cannabis (hemp) is an incredible rotation crop that offers a plethora of benefits for seasonal farmers. According to a study published by bio-tech consultancy firm Nova Institute, the robust plant is capable of deterring the growth of parasitic nematodes (when rotated with soy) and fungi. Furthermore, using cannabis as a rotation crop allows farmers to streamline compliance with organic growing standards. From a long-term perspective, the prevalent herb can help cultivators on a tight budget by keeping soil fertile without the use of toxic herbicides.
Does rotating cannabis really improve crop yields? Previous reports by Bócsa and Karus (1998) suggest this practice offers economic advantages for commercial farmers. Researchers planted wheat after cultivating hemp, which resulted in increased yields by up to 20 percent.
For farmers reclaiming polluted land, cannabis may serve as a powerful exploratory (pioneer) plant. Like a team of soldiers on a reconnaissance mission, the plant is capable of thriving on toxic soil and decontaminating the space before farming crops are planted in the area. An extreme example of this practice (phytoremediation) comes from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. To remove nuclear radioactive toxins from the soil, scientists resorted to deploying cannabis in affected locations.
Intercropping and Sustainability
A major drawback with using hemp as a rotation crop is time. Growers are forced to patiently wait on the side for the plant to do its thing, which could hinder profitability. Outdoor farmers who cannot afford to lose out on entire growing seasons might instead be interested in intercropping cannabis. As mentioned earlier, this practice involves planting companion crops with cannabis, in the same plot of land. Intercropping draws its roots from indigenous tribes that planted crops based on the “Three Sisters Method.” The trio of crops consist of beans (stimulates nitrogen), corn (uses nitrogen, beans climb on the plant) and squash (offers protection from heat and promotes moisture).
“Companion planting can seem daunting if you don’t know which plants to use,”
explained Ryan Flit, county soil scientist and permaculturalist at Portal Plants.
When intercropping plants with cannabis, one should avoid using companion crops that are prone to the same types of environmental issues, like mildew and mites. Additionally, cultivators may also want to reduce competition between plants by avoiding variants with deep roots. Casey O’Neill from Happyday Farms recommends staying away from cucumbers and melons. For getting rid of pests, try intercropping the following aromatic plants: lavender, basil or garlic. Lastly, to deter nutrient loss, cover crops, including sweet peas, alfalfa or fava beans, are the way to go.