Alley Cats or Alley Cropping?
We know that alley cats aren’t welcoming, comfortable, or what we’d like to interact with but alley cropping isn’t as rough. So what is alley cropping? It’s growing food, forage, or specialty crops between rows of trees and/or shrubs. You can start with a forested area and clear out land to grow other vegetation or start out with ag ground and plant trees and/or shrubs.
Why would we consider alley cropping?
Diversifying. We know that putting all of our eggs in one basket rarely provides positive outcomes, diversifying our business, investments, and products provides us with a system that allows us to ride out market rollercoasters. Alley cropping also provides benefits to our soil by reducing erosion, providing diversity underground, providing cover, and reducing disturbance. Utilizing forages offers an opportunity to integrate livestock as well and provides livestock shelter from the sun, wind, and precipitation.
What can alley cropping look like?
Hardwoods or mast producing timber rows within row crop or forage acres.
Forage planted between tree and/or shrub rows
Planting specialty crops between tree and/or shrub rows
When a thinning or harvest occurs in our forests, it is a great opportunity to grow other crops either short or long term and still maintain timber production. Depending on the long term goals and objectives of the land, different species can be utilized. Adding trees and/or shrubs to existing crop land can be utilized to reduce wind erosion, drift control, wildlife benefits, and shelter for livestock.
Long term goals of the land (timber, mast, fruits, specialty, row crops, forage, etc)
How much space and light is needed for each crop
Timeframe of each crop, how long you intend to grow those species
Compatibility of species in the area
If integrating livestock, are there species not suited
Access to site for management and harvest
Site conditions-soil, slope, wetness
A great place to start is contacting your local conservation office NRCS, SWCD, DNR, and the Minnesota Forestry Association.