If you’re a professional farmer or even a backyard gardener, you may have heard of crop rotation before, if you don’t already practice it.
This is an incredibly useful and important step for any agriculturist to be familiar with during their time planting and nurturing plants for sufficient yield at the end of every season.
Definition of Crop Rotation
An important method utilized by growers of all levels, this practice is the act of rotating crops on the same piece of land to avoid soil exhaustion.
Farmers practice growing a varied series of different things in the same area sequenced carefully by the changing seasons.
So if you spend one season growing a certain type of vegetable in one particular field, next season, you’re going to spend the same time growing a different kind of vegetable in the same field.
You can even have two fields and grow the same product. Just make sure to alternate which field grows which every year, and you’re set.
It may seem a bit odd to practice this technique, but there’s a very important and significant reason behind it. It all revolves around the process of monocropping . This is where season after season, you plant the same thing in the same place every single time.
The reason monocropping isn’t the best idea is that the same types of nutrients that go best with a specific plant are used and used and used, draining the soil of them rapidly.
Replenishing the soil of lost nutrients, particularly in large acreage, can be tricky and expensive. To prevent this, rotate what was planted there.
Different produce leech different nutrients, allowing those that were drained the year before to replenish themselves in the soil.
To some, it may seem like an unnecessary and annoying step that doesn’t need to be taken.
They may go the entire season without thinking much about it, planting the same thing again and again, year after year, without giving the fields a chance to rest.
Any farmer worth their salt understands the importance of rest, be it for people, animals, and especially their fields.
Planting the same thing all the time in one spot has multiple, potentially crippling disadvantages. For one thing, as mentioned, certain crops drain certain specific nutrients.
Once they’re gone from the soil, used up by the plant of choice, they’re difficult to replenish quickly.
The soil can restore itself, but not fast enough for your purposes as a farmer. And you likely can’t afford to skip an entire season’s worth of planting for the soil to refresh itself for your favorite produce.
As the old saying goes, “if something can be achieved easily, it probably isn’t worth it.” That applies to life and especially to strong, flourishing fields.
Benefits of Rotating Crops
The method is a lot of extra effort, figuring out what plants are best suited to your needs and fields, how to plant them, and how to best utilize them for your requirements.
But the extra effort is worth it since this method is a major protection source. These are the most outstanding benefits of rotating your garden :
- Improves the physical properties of the soil
- Enhances soil fertility and nutrients
- Increases yield
- Minimizes the risk of nitrate leaching to surface and groundwater
- Reduces soil erosion
- It helps prevents pest infestation
- Disease infestation
- Helps control weeds
Not only does it protect the fragile nutrient system of the soil, all the different kinds of roots that grow through subsequent seasons strengthen the structure and fertility levels of the soil itself. This makes it hold up even better for future planting.
Besides, a healthy crop cycle helps to prevent the buildup and spread of pathogens. It also deters annoying pests that can occur when you plant a single product repeatedly.
Shaking up your field effectively shakes up their world and makes it harder to get a reliable foothold for propagation.
Best of all, this technique is extremely versatile and you can fully implement it in your organic farming ventures.
To get the best use out of this practice, research is first required.
There are six factors you need to consider before selecting the plants you’re going to use and rotate year after year:
- How it contributes to organic soil matter
- Will it provide for pest management?
- How it manages excess or deficient nutrients
- Will it manage or contribute to soil erosion?
- How it impacts and affects surrounding field ecosystems
- How/If it interbreeds with other companions to create hybrids
Taking all these factors into account with each potential candidate greatly increases your chance of a successful rotation.
It’s also important to take into account what nutrients your intended product benefits the most from.
Using this information to figure out what your field produces regularly, as well as the best alignment within the field once planted.
Some plants grow better in rows, and these are often the market favorites.
Cereal and grasses go well together because they put in as much as they take out of the soil, strengthening the biomass and managing the weed population.
Many key market vegetables such as legumes also tend to do well in rows. Below are examples of crop rotation over a three-year period.
Basic 3-Year Crop Rotation Example
Beds (1, 2, and 3):
1: Root and bulb – (e.g. potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, beets, or etc.)
2: Fruit and seeds – (e.g. tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, peppers, beans, or etc.)
3: Leaf and stem – (e.g. spinach, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, or etc.)
1: Fruit and seeds
2: Leaf and stem
3: Root and bulb
1: Leaf and stem
2: Root and bulb
3: Fruit and seeds
In this semi-chart example, there are three garden beds.
Each plant, for example, tomato, will be planted in the same bed for one year before rotating it with another that adds back the nutrients that it depleted from the soil.
Of course, you’ll still need to add organic fertilizers to improve soil quality and give plants an added boost throughout the year.
Planning a Rotation
So you’re ready to plan your move. Where do you start?
You need to consider the fluctuating production factors. These include market, farm size, labor supply, climate, soil type, growing practices, types of produce, etc.
Once this is figured out, determine the type of soil you’ve got and in what condition it’ll be in once the growing season is over, and harvest is completed.
If you have a plant that exudes nitrogen into the soil, then your next crop should be one that sucks nitrogen up.
Similarly, if you have one that produces a small biomass one year, the next year’s batch should be one that creates strong, sturdy biomass within the soil to provide structure to the field.
The different possibilities and combinations are nearly endless. There are a ton of factors to take count of, and there isn’t one true formula for rotating your field.
Anything can work as long as you’re careful with the ecosystem of your land.
The punishment for a faulty farming cycle can be devastating, so pay close attention to what you’re doing.
This practice also does not allow farmers to specialize in a single type of product, as doing so over a long period will damage the soil. This can be frustrating for some.
Rotation of garden crops is ultimately a supremely healthy and beneficial practice to get into. It can be a surefire way to obtain a healthy harvest in a routinely healthy, happy field, year after year.
Your field is a living thing; treat it like one.