Ok class, today’s lesson is about crop rotation. No, don’t fall asleep, you are not stuck in middle school history learning about 16th farming techniques. Crop rotation is not just for serfs anymore, it is for backyard gardeners everywhere, and most importantly, for organic backyard gardeners.
Crop rotation was pioneered by the Romans, fine tuned in England in the 16th century, and reintroduced to our country by visionaries such as George Washington Carver. Simply, crop rotation (or by extension, livestock rotation),is the practice of rotating your plants in a predefined order. If you plant tomatoes in one spot, don’t plant it again there the next time. Why? Well for lots of reasons.
One is nutrition. Plants are like kids. They all want their dinner plate slightly different even if they are eating the same food. You can fertilize, but not all plants in the same bed respond to it the same way. Corn for instance, can’t get enough. Carrots will fork in a highly fertilized bed and tomatoes will produce tons of leaves and no fruit. Crop rotation ensures everybody gets just what they need when they need it.
Second, and most important to organic gardeners, is pest control. Different pests target different crops. Cabbage worms target cabbage, potato beatles target potatoes. By rotating crops you deprive them of the food they need during their next reproductive cycle, ensuring that their populations do not get out of control. One of the most common questions I get is “what sort of organic pest control do you use?” The answer for me is nothing. If you maintain a healthy balance in your garden and stay one step ahead of your pests, they never overwhelm you. Plus, a healthy garden attracts beneficial insects, who will reproduce, and take care of your not so benefical ones. Crop rotation is the start of a cycle that gains momentum and ensures greater garden health year after year.
How to get started? There are several methods, all involving following your plants up with what will deter the pests that came before, balancing the nutritional needs of your plants, and adding green manure and nitrogen back into your soil. I’m going to share what we do. If it makes sense to you, feel free to use it. If not, go online, do some research, and find what will work best with your yard.
Start with your tilled garden area or bed. Muck it heavily with high nitrogen organic fertilizer. I use cow manure because its what we have. I then start with the plants that need the most fertilizer, then next least and so on. I lime a bit for the bean and pea plants, then at the end plant something that can be tilled back into the soil to give it a rest and a nitrogen boost. My cycle goes something like this:
Plants that need heavy feed (watermelon, corn, cucumber, squashes, pumpkin)
Plants that need moderate feed (onions, shallots, peppers, lettuce, tomato)
Root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips)
Legumes (pea and bean) be sure to apply light potash here
Brasscias (cabbage, broccoili, cauliflower, collards, brussles)
Grass (rye, wheat) let sit one season. till back in, re-fertilize heavily, then start the cycle over.
Note: this does not mean you need no additional fertilizer for 7 cycles, it just means they do not need a heavy feed every time, you can use a light fertilizer like worm casings or manure tea watered into the plants as they grow.
Happy rotating. Class dismissed!