Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK
As people move into planning mode for the new year, we start getting asked for a list of relay examples. There are some in the SPIN guides, but the possibilities are endless. What is more useful to know is the thinking behind relays so you can design your own.
The point of relays is to get more production without expanding your land base. If you intensify your production on a lot of your land base,you’ll be able to extend your marketing period and establish cash flow early in the season, before many other vendors have produce available. You’ll also be able to grow later in the season, especially if you are in an urban area and have the micro climate advantage.
I’ve practiced relay cropping on some of my plots for over 25 years, without cover cropping, and have never had a problem with soil depletion. The reason is that I can easily spot fertilize my small plots between plantings. Crop rotation on large acreages has been practiced for generations, and it is important in that context because it’s much harder to keep the soil in good shape as you grow. It is really less of a factor in relay cropping of SPIN-size plots, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to know how to apply crop rotation.
Here is how SPIN farmer Adithya Ramachandran of Kaleidoscope Vegetables Gardens plots it out, with his rule of thumb being not to repeat the same family twice in one year in one bed:
Cool season crop families
Spinach, chard, beets
Onion and garlic
Warm season crop families
Contains both cool-season (peas and broad beans) and warm-season (bush and pole beans) crops.
If you want to skip the nightshades and cucurbits, you can use the middle of your growing season for cool-season crops that can tolerate some heat, such as beets.
In a broad sense, cool season crops can precede warm weather crops, and then you can relay to cool season, like this:
cool season crop > warm season crop > cool season crop
For instance, tomatoes are a big late spring/summer crop. But during the two month period in early spring, you can plant a cool season crop like spinach. So a relay could be:
spinach > tomatoes> radish
And remember, relays don’t have to be limited to three crops. If your season permits, you can do four and five member relays. If you live in a year-round growing region, can you do continuous relays? Don’t ask a guy from Canada. You tell me.