Monday, January 25, 2010

Crop Rotation

As spring slowly but surely approaches here in the South, we begin to think about what to plant this spring.  Yes, I's still "freezing!" in many parts of the country, but this is the time of year that Southern gardeners begin to plan their spring gardens.  And that brings up the subject of crop rotation. 

Although it is not essential to rotate your garden crops, think of it as supplemental insurance for your garden.  Your garden won't fall apart if you decide not to rotate your vegetable crops.  However, you may discover that you have a better yield and fewer problems if you follow a crop rotation scheme.  What rotating does is over time, it optimizes the nutrients in your soil and provides a bit of extra protection against pests and diseases.

Crop rotation is an organized approach to deciding where to plant what crops in your garden each year.  I admit, I've not always followed crop rotation as I should, but I've decided to be much more diligent about it this coming gardening season.  The more I read about it, the more I'm convinced it is extremely valuable.  It's not difficult.  It just takes a little planning and organization.

A useful tool in your garden management kit, crop rotation does not guarantee a successful garden.  You can develop a very detailed, complex crop rotation scheme, but if you ignore the essential step of adding good organic matter to your soil every time you plant, your attempt at crop rotation will be futile.  If you have good, healthy soil full of beneficial microorganisms and good organic matter, there is less risk of pests and diseases invading your vegetable crop.  I discovered this first hand this past fall gardening season.  I had two new beds built and violating my own rule and assuming because they had new "good garden soil", I didn't need to do anything to the soil in those beds.  Wrong.  The squash vine borers descimated my buttnernut squash.  I'm convinced it was because there was very poor soil in that bed.  I didn't add any good organic matter which would have gone a long way in ensuring the health of the soil.  Anyway...didn't mean to get off on *that* tangent again.  Crop rotation is not a substitute for good garden management.  It is simply another useful tool.

Creating a crop rotation schedule is pretty simple.  You must first:
  • decide what you want to plant
  • consider how much space you want to devote to each crop
  • divide your crops into three groups:
    • root crops (potatoes, beets, carrots,onions, garlic,)
    • fruiting (flowering) crops (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn)
    • leafy crops (lettuce, spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, Brussels sprouts)
Once you determine the above items, the crop rotation goes like this:
  • leafy crops follow fruiting crops
  • root crops follow leafy crops
  • fruiting crops follow root crops
It's really that simple.

Rotating crops helps maintain the correct balance in your soil because each group of crops draws nutrients in different proportions from the soil. 

What I did this year was make a list of what I wanted to grow and identified each type of crop.  I then made a sketch of my garden beds and listed what I grew in each bed last season.  Based on what was grown in the fall and what I had on my spring planting list, I determined what vegetable I was going to put in which bed. 

If you had a particular pest problem in one of your beds, sometimes the best thing to do is to skip planting anything in that bed for a year.  Without any host plant available for a year, whatever bug was eating your plants will die out.  The pests will have to fly from another location to reach your vegetables. 

As you can see, crop rotation is not hard.  It just takes a little planning and forethought.  But it can go a long way in helping achieve a healthy productive yield from your vegetable garden.

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