03 Sep THE BENEFITS OF BACKYARD GARDEN CROP ROTATION
Have you noticed an increase in diseases or pests in your backyard veggie garden, or an overall decrease in production? It may be because you’re not rotating your crops. (And hey, we’re not pointing fingers; we just want you to be successful.)
Crop rotation is a fairly simple practice of deciding what to plant where in your garden from one year to the next, based upon not only plant groups, but what those plants need to grow and the conditions they tend to create in the garden. And while there’s some fascinating science behind it, in the end, all you need to remember is that it’s best to avoid planting the same plants in the same location for several years running.
What are These Plant Groups That Need Rotating?
- Legumes: This group includes plants like beans, peas, edamame, and lima beans. These plants add nitrogen to the soil, which supports leafy growth.
- Root Crops: Carrots, potatoes, rashishes, beets, and garlic are the most common examples of root veggies. These are heavy feeders and need to be followed by the legume crop to readjust the soil.
- Fruit Crops: One of the most popular groups, the fruit crop group includes plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, and melon. They tend to be heavy feeders, removing many nutrients from the soil in order to thrive.
- Leaf Crops: Your lettuces, greens, herbs, broccoli, and cabbage are in this group. These crops need a lot of nitrogen to develop their leaves, so it’s best to plant them in the spot where legumes were the previous year.
Why is Crop Rotation Important?
If you plant your tomatoes in the same place for two years running, you may not see a huge difference, but keep doing that, and you will. Among the reasons to rotate your crops:
- To improve soil: Some plants (we’re looking at you, tomatoes) remove nitrogen from the soil, while others (hello, beans) put that nitrogen right back in. Rotating ensures that soil nutrients are accessible to the crop planted in it.
- To minimize soil-borne diseases: Some diseases like fungi, bacteria, and viruses can be hosted by particular plants, and if they have their preferred plant host in the same spot for several years, you’re inviting trouble.
- To minimize garden pests: Other plants are host to the same garden pests like corn root worms, and when eggs hatch the following season, they’ll have a ready-made feast if you haven’t remembered to rotate those plants to another area of your garden.
How Do I Rotate Correctly?
I’ve read plenty of crop rotation articles over the years, and some of them feel like one of those logic questions on the SAT that made you want to tear your hair out. You know, the ones that go like, “You must line up your spices on the shelf. The paprika has to be to the left of the salt, the lemon pepper must be farther right of the garlic…”
It doesn’t need to be that complicated. After you’ve gotten the hang of it and want to become a Crop Rotation Ninja, you can certainly subdivide certain plants and get even more detailed, but the following method is easy — and effective — enough.
- Plant each of the 4 crop groups (from first section above) in a different part of your garden. It could be in four different raised beds, different areas of two raised beds, or different rows.
- Example: Legumes go into Area 1, Root Crops in Area 2, Fruit Crops in Area 3, and Leafy Crops in Area 4. It helps if you plant these areas in numerical succession, one after the other.
- Each successive year, move each group one area going clockwise. For example: Legumes in Year 1 will be planted in Area 1, in Year 2 they’ll shift to Area 2 as the Leafy Greens (previously in Area 4) start over by shifting to Area 1. Each crop shifts over to the next space each year.
- Adjust accordingly — if you don’t grow many legumes, then plan to have the legume area go fallow one year. Don’t plant that area, or add a cover crop. (Not sure how to add cover crops to your veggie garden? Check out our article “Cover Crops for Your Edible Garden”
See Also: DESIGNING YOUR GARDEN FOR THE ELEMENTS