Most shrub fruits (e.g. brambles, elderberry, blueberry, currants) are grown in rows spaced tightly (8-15 feet) to maximize yield while permitting access by mechanical harvesters. While these “alleys” receive plenty of light, their narrow width prevents efficient cultivation of most crops. Consequently, most farmers resort to a simple grass-clover groundcover, which provides neither revenue nor substantial ecological benefits to the farm.
At Saturn Farms, we also started with grass-clover alleys but have since realized the inefficiency in this approach. We want to explore several perennial alley alternatives that could improve farm profitability and sustainability while maintaining the management/harvest efficiency of the berries: asparagus, rhubarb, and native prairie (for seed). These are ideal alley crop candidates because their harvest seasons are complementary to most shrub fruits, and they can easily rebound after being driven over by a tractor/harvester.
We plan to (1) establish pilot plots of the three alternatives within currant alleys on our farm, (2) assess the impact of alley crops on currant growth, yield, disease incidence, and weed pressure, (3) evaluate alley crops for compatibility with the currant machine harvester (see attached Design Diagram), and (4) share findings through field days, video, results bulletin, online seminars, and social media.
Project objectives from proposal:
1) Establish pilot plots of three perennial crops alternatives for potential use in machine-harvested berry crop alleys on our farm.
2) Assess the impact of alley crops on berry crop growth, yield, disease incidence, and weed pressure.
3) Evaluate the perennial crops for compatibility with the currant machine harvester (see attached Design Diagram).
4) Share findings through field days, video, a results bulletin, online seminar series, websites, and social media.