Saturday, March 14, 2009

Garden Rotation

Most farmers know the value of rotating their crops, but sometimes we gardeners forget that crop rotation is just as important in our gardens! Several years ago, I clipped out an article from the extension office that described crop rotation in simple terms. I'll share some of what I learned here!

First, why is it important to rotate crops? Planting the same crops at the same place every year can allow a build up of disease and insect pests in the soil. When insects emerge from the soil in the spring, hopefully they will be discouraged if their host plant is not readily available. Each crop also has it's own nutritional requirements. Locating your crops in a different area of the garden can help avoid depleting your soil of specific nutrients. Some plants actually add to the soil and assist the plants grown the following year.

Crop rotation is not difficult. Garden plants can be separated into four groups which share similar needs. By dividing your garden into four plots, you can rotate through the four groups. The goal is to allow three years before replanting any of the members of the same group in a bed.

Group 1 - Tomato/Potato
tomato, potato, pepper

Group 2 - Greens
cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower

Group 3 - Legumes
peas, beans

Group 4 - Corn/Squash
corn, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins

Onions, carrots, beets and radishes may be planted among any group.

That is the ideal! Since we don't live in an ideal world, our plans will probably need to be adapted! For me, the challenge comes because 1) my garden doesn't divide evenly in four groups as I have far more corn then broccoli! and 2) I like to do successive plantings such as following some late potatoes after I pull out my peas!

Still, this guide gives me something to work toward! I am most particular about not planting tomatoes and potatoes at the same places since I have had problems with blight in the past. Also, since corn is a heavy feeder, I like to follow corn by peas to help add back to the soil. It isn't hard to remember that the tomatoes were in the middle of the garden last year, so this year I'll place them in the back of the garden, and next year put them right in front!

If you have the space, you could evenly divide your garden into four plots. When one plot isn't completely filled by that year's crop, you can fill in with a "green manure" cover crop. I've already written about how much we like to use buckwheat - and there are many other cover crop choices! Most of us don't have the luxury of extra gardening space, but if you do, or you can extend your garden a little bigger to make this system work, you may find it beneficial!

I've only touched on the very basics of crop rotation! What has worked for you?

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