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Using Crop Rotation In Organic Gardening

How Composting Works

You may think that crop rotation is only useful on a large scale, for such things as farming, but the principles underlying this idea are exactly the same in a small garden as on a big farm. So what exactly is crop rotation? And what are these principles?

Rotation is the practice of changing which crops you grow in a particular location each year. And there are two important reasons why this switching of crops is beneficial both to the soil and to the plants.

First of all, the various plants take different nutrients out of the soil, so having the same crop in the same location all the time will eventually deplete the soil of those nutrients. At this point, some way must be found to replenish those elements, or it will become impossible to grow anything in that spot. The lack of rotation is often why some growers discover they need more and more chemical fertilizers if they continue planting the same crop in the same spot. This practice is often considered to have been a major factor in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Another main reason for rotating crops is pest control. If pests that attack a certain plant are given a chance, year after year, to build up in the same location, the plants will be less and less healthy each year. This may have been what occurred in the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-19th century. But if a new plant is put in that location, so that the pests already living in the soil do not have anything to feed on, the pests will die away and the plants will be healthier.

So rotation of crops, large or small, is very important to the flourishing of an organic garden. It’s one of the elements that helps you to avoid the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and it keeps the soil healthy.

But there’s something of a method to crop rotation. If you plant specific types of crops one after the other, each one helps to refresh the soil in certain ways that make it beneficial for the crop that’s planted in the next season.

The Helpful Gardener website narrows rotation down between plants that need nitrogen and those that “fix” nitrogen in the soil so that it can be accessed by nearby plants that need it. If you operate by this principle, you will need to do extensive research to make sure you know which plants are which.

The Tanger Green website tries to use a few more specific examples, such as following squash or potato crops with carrots the next year. This site also suggests you take note of which crops should be planted next to each other. For example, it cautions against growing potatoes and tomatoes side-by-side, since both of them come from the same family, and would tend to deplete the soil very heavily of the same nutrients.

The Spiritual Sky website, however, goes into more detail about a suggested order for crop rotation: legumes, then cabbages (and other members of the “brassica” type of vegetable), then tomatoes, followed by onions, and finally root vegetables. Or, if you want a more generalized rotation, the site suggests brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radish, etc), followed by root crops (beets, carrots, potatoes and so on), and then an “others” category (which could include eggplants, beans, peppers, cucumbers, onions, peas, tomatoes, etc).

If you take what steps you need to make your garden soil healthy and full of nutrients, and then practice crop rotation from year to year, you will likely have fewer problems with pests attacking your plants, and will end up with some very vigorous plants and great vegetables at the end of the season.

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