Crop rotation, a process that involves seeding in groups made according to plant family, and then rotating them around the growing area with every season’s planting, is one phrase you often hear when you’re taught (or teach yourself) gardening. It has numerous benefits.
With this process, you can expect reduced pest presence. Potato beetles that have damaged your potato plants months ago won’t be back during the next round of planting if you skip the potatoes by then. You can expect fewer soil-borne plant diseases since early blight that attacks tomatoes is confined to a tiny area of the garden. Soil nutrients are expected to increase since the cover cropping that you’re doing between food crops boosts fertility.
All of these benefits sound nice, but if you have no idea how to do it right, then you cannot expect to reap all the benefits of crop rotation.
- Measure, then map the garden.
Use Google Maps for this particular task. Look for a satellite image of the residence on the application. Print this image, then draw the garden on it.
- Divide the garden into plots.
Your garden needs to have enough plots such that you can rotate through every crop family you want to work with. The plots can be drawn in any shape that you like, but rectangular blocks are recommended since they are easier to work with a tractor. All plots need to be numbered so it’s easy to refer to them.
- Group all the crops.
Deciding on the plants to plant this year is the tricky part. To make things easier for you, group all the crops by family, season of planting, and season of harvest. You’ll need to use succession cropping, which is planting one family of crops after another within the same space so that the plot can be used all throughout the year.
An example of succession cropping is:
Winter: cover crop of oats
Summer: cover crop of soybeans
Serious planning is needed for succession cropping to be successful. Serious planning can go as far as putting together a spreadsheet of crops, varieties, and planning and harvest dates. It’s a lot of work, but is useful for so many years, as notes on yield and germination can be made as well. An easier method is using the charts which seed companies use and guides from the state cooperative extension. However, it’s still a great idea to note down how every crop performed in the garden to serve as future reference.
- Outline the plan.
Chart each season and plot number, like the example show in the previous step. Next to the season, fill in the plant you want in the plot. Certain crops will stay in your garden for more than a season. For example, squash, which is planted in spring, is harvested in summer. Garlic, planted during autumn, is harvested in spring.
You can, likewise, intercrop, planting at least two crops in that particular plot for each season. One example of intercropping is planting both cabbage and broccoli in a plot during autumn. Keep in mind that both plants belong to the same family.
Separate all crop families so that one family does not return to original plot for two or four years.
- Plant cover crops to fill in all blanks.
Cover crops are very important since these help in reducing weed growth, preventing soil erosion, raising soil temperature, and boosting soil nutrients. Every plot benefits from cover cropping between planned crops. Each crop variety serves a different purpose. Use the climate, all soil-test results, as well as any future garden-plot plans for determining the most appropriate cover crop.
- Stick to your plan.
With these details charted down, you should now have a crop rotation plan. Every year, you should be able to move plants for every plot up one space. Whatever plant was grown in the third plot this year will be grown in the second plot the following year, and so on. The rotation should keep pests guessing, soil nutrients building, and strong vegetables growing.
To truly benefit from crop rotation, gardeners can add water tanks to their gardens.