Let a Row ‘LIE FALLOW’

Giving Rest to an Overworked Plot

In Illinois, where I grew up, farmers often, after harvesting crops for a few years, would select an acre and plant a thin, forage crop. Clover and weeds that self sow would be allowed to grow. After using it for a year as a pasture for cattle, the acre was plowed and planted with a food crop. Farmers called this letting the land lie fallow.

Shirley with Gavin, and Kyla

Shirley Raynor took a water-logged disaster area that had been abandoned as hopeless by a whole series of energetic gardeners and turned it into a thriving garden that produces everything from squash to tomatillo.
(Photo by Mary Previte)

Two years ago, instead of placing my dug up weeds in a mulch pile at the back edge of my plot, I tried my own experiment with letting a row lie fallow. I dug out some of the soil in Row 1, filled it with weed sod turned upside down, then covered the weeds with the dug out soil. After scattering a few wild flower seeds, I let that row lie fallow until the following year. The results were a rich, wormy soil. Last year, I planted tomatoes in Row 1 and tomatillos in Row 3. In both rows, I had replaced clay on the bottom with good soil. Except for my “letting-it-lie-fallow” treatment in Row 1, both rows had had equal enrichment - kitchen compost, manure, ashes, and sea weed fertilizer. Both rows produced abundantly, but Row 3 out-produced the tomato crop in Row 1, perhaps because it reacted better to last year’s too abundant rainfall.

Instructions from the Bible

Letting the land lie fallow is not a recent idea. In Bible times, the Israelites were advised to let the land lie fallow for a time. It has to do with the knowledge that land that has been mistreated by intensive farming eventually will be healed by nature, if left to itself. In our own poor way, we attempt to reproduce nature’s works.

Written by Shirley Raynor, Plot 12