Content: Grow many different crops and crop varieties. If you grow only a few crops, and growing conditions turn out to be poor for one or more of those crops, you risk not having enough food for your family or to sell. If you grow many different crops and crop varieties, you improve your chances of having enough food. Also, you’ll have lots of different foods for better family nutrition.
Different kinds of crops
What are the advantages of growing many different crops? First, you get foods for your family’s different needs. Some crops you grow provide energy, others keep you from getting sick, while others help your children grow, and keep everyone strong. By growing many different crops, you’ll also be able to meet those same needs for your livestock. In addition, your crops will provide medicines, fuel, and building materials.
You know that some crops grow much better in certain conditions than in others and that certain crops grow better in one type of soil than another. Also, some crops need to grow in the sun while others are better in the shade.
Then there are some crops that grow well in dry conditions, while some are better when it’s wet, or when the air is moist. There are certain crops that will die if the weather gets really cold.
So, different crops do well and have a better chance of surviving in different conditions. For example, if the weather gets very dry, or there’s a heavy rain or a frost, one of your crops may be damaged. If you’ve planted lots of crops though, there is a good chance that you will have another crop or a few other crops that are still healthy. So you will be safer from the risks the weather can bring.
Here’s something else to think about. If you sell your produce, growing many crops may reduce your risk of loss because of low prices in the market. Think what may happen if the weather is just right for one of the crops you grow. Not only will you have a large crop to sell, but your neighbours will also have more to sell. With all that produce for sale at the same time, the price will be very low so your income from that crop will be less. But you can reduce your losses if you are harvesting and selling other crops at the same time.
So far, I’ve mentioned better nutrition for your family and your livestock as good reasons for growing many different kinds of crops. I’ve also mentioned that the more different kinds of crops you have, the more likely you’ll be able to grow the best crops for soil, sun, and shade conditions and the less risk you’ll take due to unusual weather and low prices in the market.
There’s another good reason for planting many different crops.
You can reduce the number of pests and diseases in the garden or field. The reason is that most insects and diseases attack only certain kinds or varieties of crops. Insects and diseases spread more quickly if you have planted a large area with the crop they like to attack. If you grow many different crops and you plant them in small areas or rows mixed in with other crops, it’s not as easy for insects to find the crops they like.
It’s also better to grow different varieties of each crop. There are many reasons for this. Different varieties of vegetables, for example, have different abilities to tolerate pests and diseases, are suited to different growing conditions, and take different lengths of time to produce a crop. Also, different varieties may have different flavours or different cooking qualities.
The more varieties of a crop you are able to plant, the more chance that some will survive even if there are weather or pest problems. For example, suppose you have planted two or three varieties of beans which mature at different times. If there is an early drought, the early variety may produce very little but the late variety will be able to produce a crop when there are late rains. By planting early and late varieties, you can also have supplies of that vegetable for eating or selling for a longer time.
It’s especially important to continue planting traditional varieties of crops. These are the varieties that have been grown by people in your area for many years. Your parents and grandparents probably grew them. They’re very well suited to your local weather conditions and are resistant to pests that are common in the region. They have probably been selected by people in your area for many years for good taste, cooking quality, colour, shape, and nutritional value. Usually, there is no need to buy expensive chemical pesticides and fertilizers to grow these varieties. And just because you are still growing these traditional varieties doesn’t mean that you can’t also grow the new crops. You can experiment with mixtures of both. If the new crops are certain types of hybrids, however, such as hybrid maize, they must not by planted near your traditional varieties. If you do, pollen from tassels at the top of the hybrid maize plants may fall onto the ears of your old varieties. If this happens, seeds from those ears and seeds you grow from them will never be able to produce as good a crop again.
If people stop growing these traditional varieties of crops, these good foods may be lost forever. It would be most unfortunate to lose varieties of vegetables, grains, and fruits that are so well adapted to local growing conditions and culture.
The best way to conserve these plants is to keep them growing in your gardens and fields.
1. The point made close to the end of this item about the possibility of ruining traditional varieties by growing new hybrid varieties near them is extremely important. We therefore strongly recommend that you use another DCFRN item with this item. It is:
Hybrid and open pollinated maize – Package 8, Item 4
2. You may wish to use this item with the following DCFRN item:
Crop Rotation – Package 15, Item 6
3. Many plant species and varieties have been lost. Often, traditional varieties are being replaced by a few modern varieties or hybrids. These traditional varieties contain valuable genes which contribute resistance to pests, diseases, drought, and other conditions specific to the region where the plants are well adapted and are being grown. These genes also determine characteristics such as height of the plant, strength of straw, and sweetness of fruit. When all plants of a species have disappeared, they can never be replaced or recovered.
Seed banks have been established in certain areas of the world where all known species and varieties of crops are being preserved. Scientists know that many rare species and varieties contain genes which could be bred or transformed into other species to make them better for certain purposes.
People involved in agriculture in your area may also be interested in establishing a local community seed bank.
However, the best way to conserve plant genetic diversity is for farmers and gardeners to continue planting traditional crop varieties that have been grown in their region for generations.