What is Crop Rotation?
Crop Rotation is simply the moving of crops from one plot to another over the years. So rather than keep a bed for planting potatoes in for ever, each year we plant potatoes in a different plot. The easiest way to think of, and record crop rotation is to assign a type of crop for each year of your crop rotation cycle. There are numerous systems but perhaps the most common is the 4 Year Crop Rotation system.
You break up the crops into four distinct groups and assign them a year. For example potatoes and related species may be your ‘Year 1’ crop. You plant them in year one then plant other crops for the following three years. Then you’re back to year one and its time for potatoes again.
You will need at least as many beds for planting as the years in your crop rotation system. Each bed starts at a different point in the cycle. So there will always be at least one bed which is at Year 1, and thus ready to plant potatoes in your system.
Why Rotate Crops?
Unless you want to be fighting a build up of pests and diseases, while forever having to replenish nutrients you must rotate your crops. Each type of crop takes things from your soil which, if not replenished would lead to that crop deteriorating over time. Similarly each crop has certain pests and diseases which will build up in your soil causing a decline in the crop’s performance.
The idea of crop rotation is simply to give the land a break from that crop. Allow the nutrients it took to be replenished and the pests and diseases to die back down.
Keep Crop Rotation Simple
Clever crop rotation systems mean following certain crops with other crops that balance out nutrients or suppress certain pests. There are also the conditions enjoyed by each successive crop to take into account.
For example potatoes like a lot of muck in the ground before planting. When the potatoes come out the soil will still contain a lot of muck. This would make other root crops (eg carrots) ‘fork’ or split in the ground. So a clever crop rotation system would put root crops as many years as possible after the potatoes.
There are similar issues with lime added to the soil for certain crops (e.g. legumes) but disliked by others (e.g. potatoes), and enjoyed but only after a year or so by still other crops (brassicas).
There are a myriad other things to take into account when creating the perfect Crop Rotation system. People group the crops differently and apply different products to their soil changing the rules their cycles follow.
Whether to grow green manure crops or leave land fallow. Whether you put animals on your land and how much time you have for garden planning will affect your system of crop rotation.
But the most important thing is not to repeatedly plant the same sort of crops in the same patch of soil year after year. If you abide by this rule your crops and soil will benefit. Even if you take no more interest in crop rotation systems than leaving a few years between similar crops you will improve productivity and reduce problems in the vegetable garden.
Just keep a record of what you plant where and make sure you move things around regularly. When you’re starting out do not get bogged down in the technicalities. Keep things simple and just make sure you rotate your crops.
For years we were very ad-hoc about this (and occasionally still are). Our crops were successful and we had few problems. So don’t worry if you can’t face a huge plan for the future of your vegetable garden at the moment.
If however, you want to go down the more traditional approach I have put together the details of the 4 Year Crop Rotation System used on the Dirty Boots Vegetable Plot.
For a more self sufficient future