A Case for Diversity

It’s an old cliché: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The bizarre weather of 2012 provided a powerful lesson about crop diversity. Locally, we had total to near total crop failure of apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, Aronia berries, kiwi fruit, paw paws, heartnuts, black walnuts, pecans, and even oaks and hickories. There were a few bright spots. Persimmons, hazels and blueberries had normal crops. Due to the mild winter, blackberries had a bumper crop.
Extremes of heat, cold, rain, snow, ice, wind, and drought

Young chestnut leaves killed by unexpected freeze.
Young chestnut leaves killed by unexpected freeze.

will affect different tree crops differently, according to both the crop and the timing of the event. A hard frost on May 1st may damage an apple crop but leave chestnuts unharmed. The very same temperature on May 20th might ruin the chestnut crop but leave apples unhurt. The greater the number of different kinds of crops you grow, the less the likelihood there is of an extreme weather event wiping out all of your crops.
The benefits of greater crop diversity are not limited to resiliency in the face of weather extremes. A greater number of different kinds of plants on the landscape has been shown to dramatically reduce the number and severity of pest and disease outbreaks. This in turn will both increase the size of the harvests while reducing the cost of production.
Yet one more benefit to crop diversity is to spread out the workload through the season. Raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries are ready in June and July. Aronia berries are harvested early to mid-August. Hazels are picked mid-August to mid-September. Chestnut, persimmon and pawpaw harvest runs from mid-September to late October.
The arguments in favor of crop diversity are many and powerful. Perhaps it is time you considered diversifying. – Tom Wahl