Saturday, January 21, 2012

To rotate or not to rotate, that is the question...

 Is Crop Rotation important for the home gardener?

"I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine."

Hamlet said that, not me. Yet that is how I feel after in depth study of crop rotation for the home gardener. It is really important if your livelihood depends on it and your 15000 acres depends on nutrients being in the right place at the right time. Is it important to 1/10 acre families like me? I'd like to know what you all think on this. I'll post what I've found online and in books, and hopefully we'll work through this together.

Below are two charts: one for crop families so that I don't plant the same family two years in a row and also an example of crop rotation in case there is anyone out there wondering what we are talking about. This should get you into the same blogosphere.

Right now, (though many things have and will continue to change) this is my plan. I'm going to have my vegetable rotate in a yearly pattern. Most people agreed that a 2-3 year lapse between replanting the same vegetables helps. I will make a three year chart and try it out. The problem will be keeping the taller plants like corn, tomatoes, and peas from shading the rest, but I'll work around that.

Most sources agree that all plants use up the nutrients in the soil, but to different extents. Some like more nitrogen while others like more other stuff. Rotation also prevents pest and disease buildup. Certain crops do make it better for the next crop. Everything does better after onions, lettuces and squashes. Potatoes do better after corn. Corn and beans are not affected good or bad by preceding crops.  Carrots, beets, and cabbages are generally detrimental to subsequent crops.

If you read the crop rotation chapter of Eliot Coleman's, The New Organic Grower there is much more in depth reasoning and practical help, but I tried to touch on the basics. I'd like to know what works for you or any thoughts/opinions you may have.


  1. I agree with your (implicit) point that nothing need lay fallow for a season or a year, and that it's best to rotate. In the past and when I had more land to use, I favored legume cover crops (cheap and less invasive than you'd think because of the dry climate and poor soil) for erosion control, fixing nitrogen into coarse, less fertile soils, and for tilling into finer, clay-based soils for additional aeration and organic material.

    When we grew tall crops (sunflowers, corn, amaranth) we always took advantage of the additional shade to grow some edible beneficial companions, like epazote, nasturtium, borage, marigolds, allium / chives, ammi, particularly to ward off predatory pests.

    It's a bit of an investment, but have you thought about sending off soil samples to a local lab, or purchasing a classroom-style nutrient and soil evaluation kit? Tracking nutrient depletion the first year, especially between crops, will give you a better feel for when it's necessary to amend, or not. It's surprising what intelligent rotation (like what you've planned) will do to improve the soil.

  2. I agree as well...I think rotation is one of those things that, for gardens, isn't probably as necessary as when planting whole fields of one crop, but it can't you might as well. I think the greatest thing, honestly, is preventing outbreaks of soil-borne disease. Keeping the plants constantly changing can help prevent such outbreaks. Honestly, since it's not really more work to rotate (well, except for structures for vines), I think it also keeps things why not :-)

  3. I love the Hamlet quote and "that is how I feel after in depth study of crop rotation for the home gardener." Very Funny.