How to Rotate Crops - the Easy Way! - for a More Productive Garden

This summer, I discovered a beautiful - but strange - butternut squash in my garden (see below). After a little research, I learned the squash was diseased with gummy stem blight. The worst part was, the soil where the squash was growing was now contaminated and would spread the disease to any other squash planted there. How to overcome this? Crop rotation.

Over the years, I've not always done the best job of rotating crops. Every article I read on the topic seemed so complicated, I was frankly overwhelmed by the thought of crop rotating. So I promise this article will show you easy ways to rotate your crops.
This squash's pretty pattern comes from gummy stem blight.
Why Crop Rotation is Key to Garden Health

Crop rotation is the answer to many a garden's ills. Crop rotation:

* Increases soil fertility
* Results in a more abundant harvest
* Helps prevent disease
* Helps reduce pest problems

In simple terms, certain plants use up specific nutrients in the soil and attract certain pests and diseases. By planting the same plant (or plants in the same family) in the same location every year, the soil becomes depleted of certain nutrients - and disease and pests think they've found heaven. At the very least, without crop rotation, your crop yields will decline. At worst, your garden will be plagued with pests, disease, and deformed produce.

Easy Ways to Rotate Crops

There are several ways to plan crop rotation.

1. Keep it simple and focus on not planting anything from the same plant family* in the same spot more than once every three years.

2. The first year, plant something that puts nitrogen into the soil (like beans). The second year, plant something that sucks up a lot of nitrogen (like greens). The third year, plant something mostly neutral (like herbs). Repeat.

3. Eliot Coleman, author of The Winter Harvest Handbook and The Four Season Harvest, among other gardening books, has done extensive research on this and other vegetable gardening topics. He recommends rotating your crops this way: Year 1: tomatoes; year 2: peas; year 3: cabbage; year 4: sweet corn; year 5: potatoes; year 6: squash; year 7: root crops; year 8: beans. If you don't grow one or more of these plants, however, you can simply substitute something from the same family.* For example, let's say you don't grow tomatoes. (What are you, crazy??? But I actually do know a few folks who don't like them.) Substitute potatoes, peppers, or eggplant instead.

Of course, all this means you need to keep track of what you plant, and where. A quick sketch is all that's needed. Keep it someplace safe, like a gardening notebook, a household planner, or tacked on the garden shed wall.

Taking just a few minutes to do this each year will save you a lot of time, effort, money, and disappointment in years to come. Trust me!

* To learn more about plant families, visit Garden Organic.

Related Articles: 
How to Plan a Small Vegetable Garden
The World's Easiest, Safest, and Best DIY Weed Killers
How to Turn a Toilet Paper Roll into a Seed Pot
How to Start Your Garden as Early as Possible
How to Winter Sow Vegetables and Ornamental Plants

No comments