March 1, 2023

Alley cropping - noun

Definition: The practice of planting multiple rows of trees or shrubs across a field, in between which crops can be grown.

Alley cropping in the Forest Garden:

Alley cropping is an agroforestry technique used by Forest Gardeners to improve soil fertility. By intentionally planting nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs in rows across the site, alley cropping provides additional nutrients to crops by fixing nitrogen into the soil for uptake by neighboring crops.  

Additionally, these trees and shrubs produce an abundance of biomass, such as nutrient-rich leaves and stems. These can be chopped and dropped onto nearby crops as mulch or green fertilizer to protect the soil and promote healthier crop growth. Forest Gardeners can also routinely prune leaves and branches from these alleys as forage to bring to their livestock, or to use as fuelwood. Depending on the species selected, alley crops can also serve as windbreaks, stabilize soils, and provide edible or marketable products, such as timber.

Alleys should be planted in the east-west direction. This allows the sun to shine between the rows throughout the day and minimize shading for crops growing in between. If on sloped land, it is recommended to plant alleys following the contours. 

To read more about alley cropping and its many potential advantages, visit Chapter 8 of the Technical Manual 

Want to learn more about agroforestry? Sign up for our FGTC newsletter here. Plus, join our FGTC Facebook Group to get connected with a global community of agroforesters.