MoestuinMix: experimenting with crop diversity

MoestuinMix: experimenting with crop diversity

How can we sustainably produce food in the Netherlands in the future? That question is central to CropMix, our five-year research programme in which more than 70 scientists and 25 arable farmers work together. The focus is on crop diversity: combining different crops in one field, for example through strip cropping. This promotes biodiversity in fields and can help us become less dependent on pesticides.  

What is the best crop pair?  

A common question from arable farmers considering strip cropping or other forms of mixed cropping is: which crops go well together? To find out, we like to enlist the help of experienced and inexperienced allotment and vegetable gardeners to test different combinations in their own vegetable gardens.

Are you interested to participate? You can sign up through the button below.


Also see the frequently asked questions at the bottom of this page.


Background

Transition and crop diversity 

In the Netherlands, we have a very efficient food production system, but this system is reaching its limits. The current system, mainly based on large fields with one crop (monoculture), has given us great advantages in terms of food production, but many people are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact of this agricultural system on nature. It causes loss of biodiversity and has made us dependent on fertilisers and plant protection products, which can be harmful to both people and nature. Moreover, growers often get low prices for their produce and their remuneration is often disproportionate to their work. 

Transition and crop diversity 

To facilitate the transition to a more sustainable, ecology-based agriculture, some 70 scientists from different fields, 25 arable farms and over 30 chain partners and interest groups are joining forces. In CropMix, we study arable systems in which crop diversity is central, such as strip cropping, where strips of different crops grow side by side. This promotes biodiversity in fields and can help us become less dependent on artificial fertilisers and pesticides. This is because, for example, one crop attracts the natural enemy of the other crop's pest and diseases are less likely to spread through a field.  

But how does such a crop-diverse system work and what are its advantages and disadvantages? That is what we are investigating over the next five years with ecologists, agronomists, economists and social scientists. They investigate ecological processes in the fields, but also look at logistics and earning models, and study the roles of different partners in the food chain, including consumers. 

What is the best crop pair? 

A common question from growers considering strip cropping or other forms of mixed cropping is: which crops go well together? Answering that question requires testing lots of combinations, but we don't have enough time and space to test all the interesting combinations on the university's trial fields. Moreover, we cannot dictate to our participating growers what they should grow.  

Fortunately, there are many people in the Netherlands with vegetable gardens and valuable experience who can help us. Vegetable gardens almost always grow different crops next to and through each other, making them ideally suited for testing different crop combinations. That is why we ask vegetable gardeners throughout the Netherlands to help us test crop combinations and help arable farmers on their way. With this citizen science project, oftewel burgerwetenschap, verzamelen we in korte tijd veel waardevolle data uit verschillende omgevingen, zoals bodemtype en landschap. 

Help us and experiment! 

As a participant of MoestuinMix, you will test different crop combinations with broad beans. The first combination is broad bean and pumpkin. The second combination consists of broad beans and a crop of your own choice. Our aim is to find out which combinations promote the cultivation of broad beans and which processes ensure this, such as growth and resilience. 

Why broad beans and pumpkin?

  1. Broad beans are an early crop and much of the season the broad bean is alone in the garden. If we adjust the sowing density and make room to sow pumpkin later on, each broad bean plant will get more light. The broad bean has less competition from its peers. For the pumpkin, on the other hand, it is planted or sown late and takes up very little space in the beginning. Once the broad beans are harvested, the pumpkin can take up space from the broad beans. In science, we call this 'temporal niche differentiation' and this seems to have the greatest advantage in areas with temperate climates.
  2. Broad beans are so-called nitrogen fixers, due to their cooperation with soil bacteria. These bacteria supply nitrogen to the broad bean in exchange for sugars from the broad bean. When the broad bean dies, the plants and root remnants of the bacteria remain, passing on the captured nitrogen to the next crop, in this case pumpkin. Broad beans also stimulate beneficial soil bacteria from which the pumpkin can in turn benefit.
  3. Pumpkin and broad beans are both interesting for pollinating insects. By growing them together, pollinators can use the same place over a longer period of time this saves them searching time.
  4. Pumpkin and broad bean can both suffer from aphids. In healthy ecosystems, the aphids will also attract natural enemies. When the pumpkin is planted, there is already an army of natural pest controllers ready to protect the pumpkin as well.

Levels of participation

If you participate, you can choose from three levels to participate in. The basics are measuring the yield of broad beans by counting the pods and beans (level 1). Those who are also curious about pests can additionally look at the presence of aphids and natural enemies found on the plants (level 2). At level 3, you additionally look at pollinating insects. 

Requirements

To participate in MoestuinMix you need at least 4m2 of space in your garden. Years of experience in vegetable gardening is not necessary, but of course it is welcome. Instead, we are looking for many different participants who can all teach us something about the processes in the vegetable garden. The most important thing is that you are enthusiastic to participate and want to make a piece of your garden available in the coming growing season.

Join us!

Are you interested in taking part in the experiment? You can still sign up. We will aim for you to receive the instructions and seeds within one week after you sign up.


Vegetable gardeners: producer ánd consumer

The food system consists of producers and consumers. Many people used to produce their own food, but today the distance between producer and consumer is often great. The intervention of supermarkets, for example, makes the food chain less transparent. Many people do not know exactly where their food comes from.

Vegetable gardeners who grow and eat their own crops are in fact both producers and consumers. Because of this dual role, they possess relevant knowledge that can help foster a transition to a sustainable food system. 

Wil je je kennis delen?

From the Athena Institute, affiliated with the VU in Amsterdam, one of our PhD students is conducting research into vegetable gardeners' knowledge as producers and consumers of food. She likes to speak with vegetable gardeners about this during an interview. Would you like to share your knowledge and experiences? Sign up for an interview in your own garden via this form or help her with her research by filling out this survey (Dutch only).

Want to know more? Read more through the button below.

MoestuinMix is a citizen science project in which non professional vegetable growers and gardeners experiment with different crop combinations.

In collaboration with

About AVVN

Since 1928 we root with our hands in the earth and stand up for the interests of allotment holders. The letters AVVN stand for Algemeen Verbond van Volkstuindersverenigingen in Nederland. We are now called AVVN together natural gardening. Why? Our family has grown considerably over all these years. Today, we help anyone with a green heart with natural gardening. Whether that is in you back yard, a community garden or an allotment garden. We share our green knowledge an make gardening together even easier and more fun.

www.avvn.nl

More information

Would you like to know more or do you have questions? Please contact us via moestuinmix@wur.nl.  

About MoestuinMix

MoestuinMix is part of CropMix. A five-year research programme on ecology-based agriculture. The CropMix-consortium consists of a large number of partners and educational and research institutions.

Wageningen University & Research coordinates CropMix and the experiments in MoestuinMix.

For news and updates, follow CropMix on LinkedIn

Frequently asked questions

What happens after I sign up?

Na je inschrijving ontvang je van ons een welkomspakket met de instructies voor het experiment en biologische zaden voor de tuinbonen en pompoen.

When does the experiment start?

Het experiment loopt in het groeiseizoen van 2024 en start zodra je de tuinbonen zaait. Zaaien kan vanaf half februari, maar wanneer je dit doet, mag je zelf bepalen.

Which crops will I test?

Each participant tests the combination broad bean-pumpkin and a combination with broad bean and a crop of their own choice. You are completely free in this, so you have to provide the seeds yourself. You report to us which crop you have chosen.

What should I measure?

You measure the yield of broad beans by counting the number of pods and beans (level 1). If you want to do more, you can choose to observe aphids and natural enemies in addition (level 2). Want to do even more? Then count pollinating insects as well (level 3).

It is important to note the date you sowed and harvested and the operations you did, such as fertilising or weeding.

Furthermore, you provide us with various background data, such as the soil type of your garden, what other crops are growing and what the garden's surroundings look like. This may in fact affect your results.

Can I control aphids?

You can control aphids on your broad beans. If you want to participate in level 2 (counting aphids and natural enemies), make sure you count the aphids and natural enemies before you start controlling. Record the date of the control and how you controlled on your answer sheet.

Can I take the tops of the broad beans?

Some vegetable gardeners choose to cut the tops off their broad bean plants to control/prevent aphids. You can just do this, but we consider this to be a control measure. Do you want to participate in level 2 (counting aphids and natural enemies)? Then do this before you top the broad beans.

Why the combination broad bean-pumpkin?

  1. Broad beans are an early crop and much of the season the broad bean is alone in the garden. If we adjust the sowing density and make room to sow pumpkin later on, each broad bean plant will get more light. The broad bean has less competition from its peers. For the pumpkin, on the other hand, it is planted or sown late and takes up very little space in the beginning. Once the broad beans are harvested, the pumpkin can take up space from the broad beans. In science, we call this 'temporal niche differentiation' and this seems to have the greatest advantage in areas with temperate climates.
  2. Broad beans are so-called nitrogen fixers, due to their cooperation with soil bacteria. These bacteria supply nitrogen to the broad bean in exchange for sugars from the broad bean. When the broad bean dies, the plants and root remnants of the bacteria remain, passing on the captured nitrogen to the next crop, in this case pumpkin. Broad beans also stimulate beneficial soil bacteria from which the pumpkin can in turn benefit.
  3. Pumpkin and broad beans are both interesting for pollinating insects. By growing them together, pollinators can use the same place over a longer period of time this saves them searching time.
  4. Pumpkin and broad bean can both suffer from aphids. In healthy ecosystems, the aphids will also attract natural enemies. When the pumpkin is planted, there is already an army of natural pest controllers ready to protect the pumpkin as well.

These are all advantages that may occur. If they do occur is the question that we are trying to answer with your help.

What do I get in return?

Besides it being fun to participate in the experiment, you also get an insight into how your garden is doing. You will receive interim results and interesting facts about crops, pests and biodiversity. We also share great tips on broad beans. Last but not least: by participating, you contribute to knowledge about sustainable agriculture and help future farmers increase biodiversity in their fields. 

What are the different levels of participation?

You can choose yourself how much you want to measure, choosing from three levels, of which level 1 is the minimum.

The three levels are:

  1. Measure the yield of your broad beans by counting pods and beans.
  2. Measure the yield (1), but also the presence of aphids on your beans and their natural enemies.
  3. Measure yield (1), pests and natural enemies (2), and pollinating insects.

What is the role of AVVN?

AVVN samen natuurlijk tuinieren is a partner in the CropMix consortium. We work together in building the MoestuinMix experiments, aimed at people with a kitchen garden.

Do I have to be a member of AVVN to participate?

No, you don't have to be a member of AVVN. Iedereen met minimaal 4 m2 moestuin kan meedoen!

Who is behind MoestuinMix?

Researchers from Wageningen University & Research coordinate CropMix, a five-year research programme, and the experiments in MoestuinMix. Here, we work together with AVVN samen natuurlijk tuinieren.

What is the goal of the experiment?

Our aim is to learn more about crop diversity and how it works in practice in a vegetable garden or in a field. We are specifically looking for crop combinations that promote cultivation and the processes that ensure this. This knowledge could be important for farmers who want to work with crop diversity in their fields.

Why do you ask the help of vegetable gardeners?

A vegetable or kitchen garden is pre-eminently a place where crop diversity is high, but there are also big differences between gardens. For instance, in soil type, type of environment and which crops are grown. This provides interesting data.

Moreover, vegetable gardeners often have a lot of valuable knowledge about combining crops. We like to retrieve that knowledge to see what insights could be useful for arable farmers.

What happens with my data?

CropMix researchers will analyse the data collected to draw conclusions about which crop combinations work well, for example for higher yields, fewer pests and more biodiversity. Where possible, we will use the data for scientific publications to further share the results with other researchers and eventually arable farmers.

We process the results from your garden anonymously and confidentially. Your participation in MoestuinMix is voluntary and you can withdraw at any time without giving any reason.

Are the seeds provided organic?

Yes, the seeds we provide (broad bean and pumpkin) are organic.

Do I have to garden organically to participate?

Organic gardening is not necessary. You can manage the garden as you normally would. You report to us what you have done in terms of weed control and fertilisation, etc.

Is you question not answered above? You can send us an email at moestuinmix@wur.nl.  

MoestuinMix is a collaboration between CropMix and AVVN samen natuurlijk tuinieren.

CropMix is financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO)

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