In designing an allotment to fit in with permaculture principles how does crop rotation work with the 7 levels especially since canopy and sub canopy plants tend to be trees/shrubs.

Should one not rotate crops at all ? Is it that when planting vegetables, the densities are so low and the variety of plants so great that reasons for rotation are eliminated ? ie. The build up of pests, depletion of key nutrients, etc.

Surely it makes sense to move the planting around into some sort of rotation scheme ?

Also when incorporating a no-dig principle, adding mulch/manure/compost, this doesn't work with potatoes and root crops ? So if I have my allotment, some of it growing roots/potatoes the other part no-dig how does that work ?

Am I mixing too many ideas here ?

3 Answers 3


I understand that the main principle in permaculture and related (e.g. Fukuoka) is that of planting a garden, which is more or less a perpetual motion machine, self-sustaining and strong enough to support a person/family/community living off it.

In accordance to this principle, the most important point is to design a garden that self-sustains. For example, one idea is the fruit forest, which is supposed to be like an abandoned orchard, with plants at seven levels, as you say.

Root crops are not in one particular place, but "crop up" all over the garden. You should only dig, when you want to harvest. And you should only harvest so much that a couple of plants flower and "crop up" in the next season.

In that sense, I think that traditional permaculture à la Mollison doesn't deal much with crops that are rotational in nature. In particular, Mollison suggests in several places that potatoes should be the staple for any gardener.

Fukuoka, however, has developed a method to rotate rice and wheat (by sowing the grain in form of clay pellets to protect them from birds and insects) which is much in line with permaculture principles.

But the basic idea is to not rotate crops, because you don't really have "crops". You have a big and abundant garden, which produces fruit & vegetables all year round, without having to have a sowing and harvesting season. The extent to which this works out is, of course, dependent on your climate. The reason this can work at all, according to permaculture, is good design.

  • This is a great answer, I would like to tick both replies received as answers, but can only select one. (I think). Your phrase ".. a garden that sustains ..", really brought it home to me. I am 3 years in, and have had "crop-up's" (onion, leeks, spinache, potatoes, parsley, marigolds), which felt like free-food. ;-) tks
    – X Tian
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 12:36
  • By Morrison, do you mean Bill Mollison? Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 23:42
  • 1
    @JoséAndias I'm usually good with names, including spelling. Not sure how this happened... Thanks
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 7:01

Surely it makes sense to move the planting around into some sort of rotation scheme?

The backbone of most permaculture plantings are perennials, including trees and shrubs. These, being more or less permanent plantings, do not lend themselves to rotational schemes. You could, however, as mentioned, rotate some of the plantings in the herbs layer under them if you wanted to.

Also when incorporating a no-dig principle, adding mulch/manure/compost, this doesn't work with potatoes and root crops? So if I have my allotment, some of it growing roots/potatoes the other part no-dig how does that work?

Potatoes can be grown using no-dig methods. Ruth Stout apparently pulls her mulch aside, throws chunks of potatoes on top of the ground and then pulls the mulch back over them to cover them. Later, as the vines grow, she adds more. So it can work.

You can grow root crops in a no till garden as well - just be sure that you start out with shorter varieties until the soil begins to loosen up enough for the longer root crops to dig themselves in properly. For example, depending on how your soil is to begin with, you could grow "thumbelina" or short fingerling type carrots the first couple of years instead of the foot-long type. Things like turnips and round beets should do okay in a new no-till garden as well, just be sure to draw the mulch up around the top of their bulbs so they don't turn green. (same with carrots, btw.)

Am I mixing too many ideas here?

I don't think you are mixing too many ideas, but I think you don't yet have a good feel for the differences between traditional rotational and no-till permaculture gardening. Time and experimentation will take care of that. And remember - you don't have to do just one or the other, you can always incorporate both types of gardening into your plot. It's your garden, it's your choice.

  • You answer is just as useful as the other. My 1st year managed beets and couple of carrots in no-till, 2nd year was disastrous, so feel back to a small dug area. So I am mixing but also feel so uncertain whether my methods are working. I find it is easier to have plants in areas, but I do try and mix plants together (inter-cropping/multi-cropping), have achieved successional harvest in same area (two vege types) this 3rd year. And yes I've decided to have 1/6 plot for potatoes-root crops rotated similar to Fukuoka's rice-barley mix. tks :-)
    – X Tian
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 12:49

The reason to practice crop rotation, and that basically means avoiding planting the same plants (or same family of plants) in the same location, is for pest and disease avoidance. Some vegetables and herbs such as garlic, beans etc are prone to rust so you want to practice a 3 year rotation to avoid diseases. And in addition you want to practice growing green manures to replenish the soil.

Quite often the reason why accomplished vegetable gardeners run into major issues with productivity and diseases in their vegetable garden is because they’re not practising crop rotation. They may make the mistake of designing a permanent garden patch for tomatoes, or putting aside a favourite spot in the garden for growing broccoli, and then plant the same vegetables in the same location, year after year, which is a sure recipe for garden problems!


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