Farmers and avid gardeners know how important it is to rotate crops for plant health and yield. Crop rotation means growing a specific sequence of different crops and plant species in the same place, within a growing season, or over several years.
Why Rotate Crops?
The main benefit of a crop rotation plan is that, by moving plant groups each year, the soil doesn’t get depleted of particular nutrients as different types of plants use different ones from the soil.
Rotating your crops not only maintains but improves soil fertility.Some crops supply nitrogen, rejuvenating the soil naturally. Crop rotation also helps improve soil organic matter and tilth, leading to healthy crops with increased yields, and may even aid in reducing soil erosion. It combats the buildup of diseases in the soil and is a valuable practice for those who hope to farm more organically and sustainably, minimizing the use of chemical products such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
By supporting healthy, resilient plant growth, this practice also helps reduce pests, diseases, and weeds. Crop rotation plans consider that certain plant families are susceptible to certain insects. Rotating annuals by plant family, so that members of the same plant family are not in the same place two or more years in a row can keep insect pest populations from building up. This is especially important for soil-dwelling insects. Crop rotation also can encourage natural predators of pests by providing diverse habitats and sources of food for them.
After 65 years of research, the University of Guelph summarizes the main benefits of crop rotation as:
- Higher yield
- Improved soil nitrogen use efficiency
- More resilient during drought years
- Improved soil health
How to Rotate Crops for plant health and yield?
Crop rotation can be as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it. It is a proven system that provides long-term benefits for every garden.
Generally the more garden beds and variety in your garden, the easier it is to create a rotation cycle over several years or growing seasons. In deciding whether to rotate crops, the main factors are:
- your available time
- garden space
- the amount of labour you’re willing to do
So, consider how much land you will set aside for your garden, and whether or not you want to set aside extra land to accommodate a crop rotation plan.
Depending on how much garden space you have and to what extent you wish to apply the principles, the key factors to consider are:
1.Plants’ nutrient requirements
Rotate between these based on how heavily they draw nutrients from the soil:
- light feeders, such as garlic, onions, peppers, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, and turnips.
- heavy feeders, such as tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, corn, eggplant, beets, lettuce, and other leafy crops.
- soil builders, such as peas and beans which return nitrogen to the soil and the use of cover crops at the end of the growing season.
2. Plant Family
The basic principle here is not to plant members of the same plant family in the same location twice in a row. The basic plant families are as follows:
Whether your garden is large or small and whichever type of rotation you choose, your soil and vegetables will reward you with healthier and more productive crops.
Resources, Details, and Sample Plans
Full Article, Printable – Crop Rotation for a healthy garden