Crop rotation sounds like a ton of work, doesn’t it? It does require an ample amount of planning but has many beneficial qualities as well.
Which is why it’s important to explore different gardening techniques to find new ideas which should work well in your particular gardening scenario.
If you’ve ever considered crop rotation in your garden, explore this idea with me. Let’s consider the benefits, the different methods, tips, and how to go about rotating crops in your garden regardless of size or variety of crops.
Here is what you need to know about crop rotation:
The Perks of Crop Rotation
Like anything, if you’re going to do something extra in your garden it needs to have a benefit, right? Crop rotation is no stranger to scratching a gardener’s back who puts in the extra effort of planning before planting.
1. Reduces Soil-Borne Diseases
Soil-borne diseases can kill your crops quickly and without much warning. This is why you need to stay on top of the health of your garden.
When you rotate crops, it makes life harder on diseases. Certain diseases only feed on certain types of plants. If the plants don’t stay in one place, the disease is stopped before it ever could get started.
Therefore, by rotating your crops, you boost your garden's defenses. It’s important to make sure you keep your crops on a four-year rotation because some soil-borne diseases can live in the soil for up to three years.
2. Reduces Problem Insects
Certain insects live in the soil and wreak havoc on your plants when least expected. Like soil-borne diseases, most insects have particular plants they like to feed on.
When you rotate the crops, the bugs don’t know where to look for food and die out. With fewer eggs being laid, there are lesser new generations of harmful insects in your garden.
In short, if you rotate your crops, you’ll starve the bugs out and make your garden less desirable to them.
3. Keeps Soil Balanced
Plants require different nutrients in your soil. This is why it’s important to have healthy soil in your garden.
However, if you keep planting the same crops in the same place, the crop is going to leach your soil of whatever key nutrients the plant desires.
From there, your soil is out of balance. But if you rotate your crops around, it keeps your soil in balance. I’ll give you greater details of how to do this below.
Different Methods of Crop Rotation
There are different ways you can go about rotating the crops in your garden. You’ll use different methods depending on your particular situation. Read through your options and see which is the best fit for your garden:
1. Rotate Nitrogen Hogs
There are certain plants which require tons of nitrogen to produce and thrive. Plants who produce large leafy green vegetables or bear fruit from the plant itself need nitrogen to make this happen.
If you plant these vegetables in the same place year after year, your soil is going to lose any nitrogen which may be there or any you’ve added to the soil each year.
However, if you keep them rotated, you can plant items in your garden which add nitrogen naturally to the soil, and those who need nitrogen the next time around. When moving them around, this should keep things in balance.
2. Rotate by Plant Family
Plants belong to different families, like humans. For instance, tomatoes and eggplants belong to the same plant family.
In their case, you wouldn’t want to plant things from the same family in the same location year after year. The reason being is certain bugs is attracted to certain families of plants, not only one variety.
With this in mind, if you plant the same family in the same location year after year (even if you rotate the variety) this draws the unwanted pests to the same area repeatedly. Meaning your crops are going to be destroyed or you’ll spend the whole growing season battling bugs.
3. Keep the ‘Big 4’ Moving
Finally, there are four basic varieties of plants. Those varieties are:
- Root veggies
- Leafy greens
- Fruit producers
You want to keep these four varieties separated and constantly moving around your garden because they each have different nutritional requirements and different pests who feed on them.
If you keep them moving, you should keep disease low, pests low, and your soil balanced.
Crop Rotation Tips
Like any gardening tip, you need to keep a few things in mind when practicing crop rotation. Here are a few tips which could help you in the process:
1. Legumes Before Cabbages
Cabbages are a plant variety which requires nitrogen. You’ll notice if they don’t have enough nitrogen the plant will begin to turn light green and eventually yellow.
When this happens, the plant withers, fails to produce, and doesn’t thrive.
However, legumes naturally put nitrogen back into the soil. Therefore, it’s a good idea to plant legumes family members where you want to plant cabbages next because your nitrogen levels will be naturally boosted.
2. Root Veggies and Fertilizer Don’t Mix
If you have an area in your garden which has been heavily fertilized during the growing season, this isn’t the area you want to grow root vegetables the next season.
You don’t want this because fertilizer will cause the foliage of the root vegetables to thrive while taking everything away from the root itself.
In short, you’ll have carrots with lush green tops and are big and brilliant. Yet, you’ll have only a stubby carrot knob. You don’t want this because you’ll miss out on your harvest.
How to Create a Crop Rotation Plan
There are different ways to go about planning your crop rotation. It’s important to consider each step of the process to figure out which method will work best for you:
1. Plan What You’ll Grow
You can’t plan your crop rotation if you don’t know what you’ll be growing. Before you do anything, you need to make a list of what vegetables you’ll be growing in your garden.
From there, you can figure out which category each plant goes into. You’ll know where they should go in your garden layout plan once they’ve been categorized.
2. What Size Garden Will You Grow?
Next, you’ll need to decide what size garden you’re planning on growing. If you’re growing a small backyard garden with only a small harvest to eat fresh foods during the growing season, you’ll need a different approach from someone who is growing a larger garden to preserve their food.
Once you have this in mind, you’ll be ready to decide how in-depth or simple of a plan you’ll need to properly rotate your crops.
3. Do You Need a Simple Plan?
If you’re growing a smaller garden, your main focus should be soil balance. With smaller gardens, you usually don’t grow a large variety of crops nor do you have large amounts of space.
Therefore, it should be easy to rotate based on what nutritional needs each plant has. This should keep your soil better in balance and plants thriving.
In this case, it’s easy enough to divide your crops into legumes, root vegetables, leafy greens, and fruit-bearing. It isn’t overly complicated but should do the trick to keep everything rolling as it should and not put too much pressure on the gardener.
4. What If You Go More In-depth?
If you are someone who is growing a larger garden with many different varieties of plants, you’ll need to take a more in-depth approach. It’s best in these situations to rotate by family.
When growing a larger garden, it’s much more difficult to control pests and soil-borne diseases. This should be your main focus, which is why it’s good to rotate your crops in a way which will deter bugs or disease.
But if you have a large infestation or illness in your soil, it could spread and wipe out your garden before you could begin to get it under control.
Also, when creating your crop rotation plan, it’s a good idea to consider companion planting and cover crops as well to better protect your soil.
Here’s an example of rotation based on family:
The cabbage family is a high feeder family who puts nitrogen back into the ground. This makes them a great option for planting in an area prior to planting legumes.
Carrots and Herbs
These plants are known as moderate feeders. They are okay to plant ahead of any other plant variety. You should avoid planting them where there’s been a high amount of fertilizer spread recently.
Onions and Garlic
If you are growing tomatoes, plant onions and garlic after them as an overwinter crop. It will protect your soil from diseases and bugs who bring harm to tomato plants.
Cucumbers, Squash, Melons
After raising cucumbers, squash, or melons, it’s a good idea to cover the soil with a cover crop. Afterward, plant legumes.
Wheat and Corn
Plant the area with wheat and corn prior to planting tomatoes or squash because they help with weed control.
Beans and Peas
Beans and peas are a good option to plant anywhere and follow up with anything. They add nitrogen back into the soil naturally, which is a good thing because the soil is usually short on nitrogen from the get-go.
Peppers, Tomatoes, Potatoes, and Eggplants
When you grow peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplant follow up with a cover crop of grain to protect the soil. From there, add beans to the next rotation to put nutrients back into the soil the above-mentioned crops took.
You now know all you need to about crop rotation. It’s an art and may take some time to figure out which rotation methods work best for you.
However, I’d love to hear your thoughts on crop rotation. What method do you use? Is there anything you’ve learned over the years which has worked like a charm?
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