Being a backyard gardener, you may have never taken the time to learn about crop rotation strategies. Many people tend to think that crop rotation is only practiced on larger farms, but the truth is that everyone can benefit from it. If you make an effort to switch up your crops' planting locations as the seasons change, you're sure to yield a more bountiful harvest than ever before.
Problems That Occur From Not Rotating
Several problems can arise from insufficient crop rotation. For instance, disease can build up in the soil under flowering plants that have been left stationary for too long. If you're growing something that's particularly susceptible to it, or it becomes too prominent in the ground, a disease could eventually cause your crops to fail. Similarly, crops that are left unrotated can draw harmful pests into your garden.
Inadequate crop rotation has also been known to upset the nutrient levels in the soil. All plants require a variety of nutrients to grow strong and bear fruit, and rotating their positions in your garden will help them access all the food they need. Some crops even put nutrients back into the dirt. These are the plants you'll want to have in your garden to enrich the soil for future growing seasons.
Basics of Crop Rotation
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You may have it in your mind that proper crop rotation requires sprawling fields or large pieces of land to be kept fallow throughout the year, but you won't have to go to such extreme lengths in your yard. Instead, just think of it as a way of systematically moving your plants around. Even if you only grow a few crops in your garden, you can still benefit from shaking their arrangement up. You'll want to start by dividing your garden into four quadrants based on the following groups:
Leafy Group: These are the plants you’re growing for their leaves or flowers, such as leafy greens, salad greens, spinach, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli.
Fruit Group: These are the plants you’re growing for the fruits they produce, including tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, corn, potatoes, and eggplant.
Root Group: You already guessed it — these are the plants you're growing for their edible roots. Examples include onions, carrots, beets, turnips, and radish.
Legume Group: Legumes are special in that they return nutrients to the soil. While it might seem like a good idea to plant them alongside fruit-bearing plants, legumes should still be given their own growing room. This group includes peas, beans, and peanuts.
Crop Rotation Strategies
To ensure successful crop rotation, you'll want to get in the habit of moving each of these four groups around your garden. When planning your rotation schedule out, try arranging things so that your leafy group always moves to the section your legumes previously inhabited. The nitrogen that the legumes left behind will help you yield some beautiful greens and flowers later on.
Sample Rotation Schedule
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We've taken the liberty of planning a sample crop rotation schedule out for you, but feel free to tweak it to meet your garden's individual needs. For simplicity's sake, we've put the leaves group in the first quadrant, fruits in the second, roots in the third, and legumes in the fourth. Next year, you’ll want to move them all back one quadrant, meaning the fruits would then be in the first quadrant, the roots in the second, the legumes in the third, and the leaves in the fourth (i.e. where the legumes were previously planted.)
You’ll be able to follow this schedule for four years before each group returns to the area you first planted them in. Some people may find that they just aren't planting any crops from one or more of these groups, and that’s okay. In these cases, you can choose to adjust your garden layout accordingly, or you can keep all four quadrants and plant some cover crops in the extra one to pump some nutrients back into the soil.
At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the most out of your garden and working to keep it as healthy as possible. Crop rotation might seem like a big hassle that would be hard to pull off in a small garden, but there are plenty of ways to incorporate this beneficial practice into your space. For instance, you may find that sectioning your garden off into beds will eliminate some of the growing problems you've been experiencing in the past. While nothing can completely protect your crops from pests, nutrient depletion, and disease, crop rotation is certainly a step in the right direction.