For many home gardeners, crop rotation is often ignored for a number of reasons. Many think that it is only something farmers used to do, keeping one field fallow at all times and trading which fields were planted. Many also think that their garden is just too small for crop rotation or that it’s too complicated and not worth doing. Just adding nutrients to the soil will be enough, right? The truth is that crop rotation is something that can really benefit homes with smaller gardens, and while it may require a little extra planning on your part, it’s not as complicated as it may seem.
Benefits to Crop Rotation
Disease prevention is one of the top reasons for rotating your crops with the growing seasons. Plants diseases can build up in your soil over time when planting the same crops in the same place over and over again. Eventually, this will lead to your crop failing. The same is true with insect control. Some insects will go to ground to hibernate in the colder months, and then reappear when you plant your crops again. Rotating can help to reduce infestations.
This practice also plays a huge role in balancing your soil's nutrients. One year, the specific crop you plant may use one nutrient while leaving another alone; then, your plants the next year will use the nutrients that are still in the soil. In addition, it may also help to enhance your nutrients depending on what you plant as some crops will actually put nutrients back. Think of your peas and beans and nitrogen!
How to Plan for Your Crop Rotation
The first thing to consider is separating the different plants you grow into groups, based on plant families. You probably already do this sectioning off, growing your tomato plants together in one spot, your lettuce and spinach in another, cucumbers in yet another, and so on. You may even have already implemented companion gardening by placing certain plants together for their beneficial effects. Ultimately, this will be the easiest way to start rotating everything appropriately.
If you're not familiar with how to group your garden, then you'll need a plan. Group all of your plants that are used for their flowers or leaves, such as broccoli and salad greens, first. Next, you have the plants that you grow for their fruits, such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and cucumbers, followed by your root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and onions. The last group will be the legumes that put nutrients back into the soil: your peas, beans, peanuts, and cover crops.
After you’ve sorted out what you usually grow in your garden, you’ll want to draw up a rotation plan that separates out each of these groups. Divide your planters into sections and in each one, set one of these groups. Then, in the following year, you’ll switch them up. So, if in the first year, your leafy greens are in the first quadrant, then you’ll want to put it in the fourth quadrant the next year. Eventually, over the next two years, they will rotate to the third and second quadrants before looping back around to the first. You’ll want to do this with all the plant groups in your garden.
Tips and Hints
Use planting beds if you have a smaller garden, placing each group in one of the beds. This may help to keep diseases from spreading among your quadrants, but it is a little harder in smaller gardens to completely get this separation going for you.
When planning your rotation, it can be helpful to have your leafy greens planted in the area that was previously planted with legumes as most leafy crops love nitrogen. Similarly, your legumes should follow after your root crops because they do well in soil that has been previously loosened.
Some crops that you can plant in-between your quadrants because they aren’t as likely to get diseases are cucumbers, melons, lettuce, and squash.
If you plant very little every year, you can still participate in crop rotations. Mix up where you place the crops you do grow from year to year. You may even want try something different by adding some container gardening if diseases and insects are a real problem and you want to let the plant beds fallow for one year.
It’s easy to subscribe to the notion that you don’t do enough gardening to necessitate crop rotation, but your garden will thank you for the extra effort with a nice harvest at the end of the season.