Thursday, February 24, 2011

Crop Rotation

There are many reasons to rotate your crops each year. Rotation is primarily used to minimize nutrient depletion in the soil and manage insect and disease pressures on your plants. Properly planned and executed, rotation can enhance and help the gardener build soils and maximize crop yields over the years. Most folks recognize that planting the same type of plant in an area year after year can cause problems. The Cooperative Extension System tells us it is best to avoid planting any member of the same plant family in the same spot or row for at least 2 years.

Below are 3 different rotation plans

The first plan shown is from ACES publication ANR-1254 Planting and Maintaining Rotation by Plant Family

Alliaceae (Onion Family)  Onion, garlic, leek, shallot, chive

Apiaceae (Carrot Family)  Carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)  Lettuce, endive, salsify, Jerusalem artichoke

Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)  Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, turnip, Chinese cabbage, kale, collards, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga

Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family)  Beet, Swiss chard, spinach

Convolvulaceae (Bindweed Family)  Sweetpotato

Cucurbitaceae (Gourd Family)  Cucumber, muskmelon, watermelon, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkin, gourd, honeydew melon

Fabaceae (Pea Family) English pea, snap bean, lima bean, soybean, cowpea, field pea

Malvaceae (Mallow Family)  Okra

Poaceae (Grass Family)  Sweet corn, popcorn, ornamental corn

Solanaceae (Nightshade Family)  Tomato, pepper, eggplant, Irish potato, husk tomato

Grouping plants in a row or plot by family will keep things simple IF you write down your plan each year. By reviewing last years layout in the cold wet days of January and February you can have a new plan for the year by simply moving everything over one row etc. The authors are not saying this is the rotation order. This is simply an alphabetical listing of the plant families and the most commonly grown crops within those families. To help you avoid inadvertently planting crops within the same family on the ground two years in a row.

Many smaller gardens with space considerations may want to utilize this 4 year rotation.

Leaf crops, followed by
Fruit crops, followed by
Root crops, followed by
Legumes, repeat the cycle

Here is the rotation we use where possible. Rotation is accomplished by moving the plants over one row, plot or field each year.

Corn: Follows Cabbages and Brassica's

Potatoes: Early and late Potatoes benefit from corn grown the previous year. Many crops do not like to follow corn. We grow our potatoes in mounded leaves which builds a better soil for succeeding years. Weeds can be an issue in the tater patch.

Squashes: A cleaning crop, helps reduce weed problems in the root crops. Those big leaves shade the soil.

Root crops: Hardest crops to keep weed free, although proper mulching can alleviate much of this problem. We combine Beets and Carrots here even though they are in two different families. Turnips, Rutabaga, Radishes all go in this “Root” area.

Beans: Beans don't like following beets but can go after other root crops. Cut off the stems and leave the roots of the beans in the ground. Beans are legumes and fix nitrogen which is almost always needed in our soils.

Tomatoes: Follow beans, keep away from potatoes as many years as possible. Both are in the nightshade family.

Peas: Can be planted as a green manure crop to boost the Brassica's. Although I am not recommending three successive pea crops on the same ground in one year, Austrian Pea's can be used as a soil builder over the late fall and winter. Early peas planted in February will add nitrogen for a follow on crop and pea production can be considered a bonus with our up and down temperature swings in the spring. Summer pea's may be the most dependable producers in our area they also add nitrogen to the soil, if you leave the roots in the ground. All are excellent at attracting pollinators and beneficial insects in the garden as well. The type of pea and timing of your planting should be dependent on which type pea you like best or the follow on crop your plan calls for next.

Cabbages or Brassica's: Hard on the soil, taking lots of nutrients, however these are known as dynamic accumulators. Be sure and compost all unused portions of these plants.

Rotation combined with companion planting and cover crops can help build your soil, and improve your garden and its productivity. While we will not be covering these subjects in more detail in this article, begin to think in terms of : What does this plant need, add to, or take from the soil. What cover or nurse crop can I plant to provide these minerals and nutrients for this crop, or the crop to follow.

Remember to keep your soil covered at all times. Either with the current crop, a cover crop, or a mulch.

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