Until recently, I thought that crop rotation was a topic of interest only for farmers– people who grew lots and lots of plants. Crop rotation, the practice of growing a series of dissimilar crops in the same area for subsequent seasons, seemed like too complicated a concept for a backyard vegetable gardener like me to worry about. Besides, I liked my habits: tomatoes, peppers and broccoli in the round bed, more tomatoes in the bed by the trellis, the cabbage and kale in the same spots. I liked the familiar shape and layout of the garden from year to year.
This year in the Master Gardener course, I was exposed to another point of view– one that showed the positive sides of crop rotation. As I’ve done more reading on the topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that rotating crops among the beds of a backyard garden is actually an important and interesting practice, and also one that we needed to adopt in our garden.
What are those positive effects of crop rotation?
Disease control. Many diseases and pests tend to effect plants of the same types. Rotating crops reduces the likelihood of diseases which can remain in the soil. For example, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes are in the Solanaceae family and have similar susceptibility to diseases. If a gardener wants to rotate crops, any of the plants in this family should not be planted where other members were grown in the previous season.
Nutrients. Different plants use different amounts of nutrients from the soil. A crop which requires a high amount of a particular nutrient from the soil, for example spinach’s need for boron, could eventually lower the levels of that nutrient and then not do as well in that area.
The other example most people are somewhat familiar with is how legumes like beans and peas fix nitrogen in the soil. It makes good sense to alternate them with other plants that can take advantage of that nitrogen.
Soil improvement. Rotating crops can also improve soil structure by alternating deep rooted plants with shallow rooted plants.
If you’ve already planted your veggies for the year, suggestions to consider rotating your crops are coming a bit late. If you are like me, however, you might need a little time to think about your practices and your willingness to make changes. If you are considering making changes next year, you can make a map or diagram of what you planted in which spots this year. It’s a good idea to keep those garden plans so you can compare them year to year. I’m interested in observing what differences crop rotation might make in our backyard garden.
Is crop rotation too much bother for your garden? Or is crop rotation part of your gardening practices? If not, is it something you might consider doing in the future?