Understanding Crop Rotation

I’ve been gardening since I was young. I started with my Papa in his garden helping him pick and snap green beans. He never used crop rotation, he simply “feed” his soil every winter and plant his plants in the same lay out every season.

Over the years I have read about crop rotation but never truly understood it, it seemed like a big headache, and since I did container gardening there wasn’t a reason to worry about it. But this year I’m doing my first in ground garden so I thought I’d research it again.

Just like I remembered CONFUSING!!! I don’t know if your suppose to rotate every year, or every 3,5,10 years!! Then my husband bought me a book from Lowe’s, Easy-to-grow Vegetables wrote by Fine Gardening. In it they explain perfectly the how and whys of crop rotation!

When rotating crops you should do it every season and here’s why, each group of plants uses a certain nutrient from the soil. If you break your plants in to 4 different groups it makes rotating easy. Theses 4 groups being :

  1. Leaf crops
  2. Fruit crops
  3. Root crops
  4. Legume crops or as I like to call them BEANS!!

The leaf crops are made up of plants like lettuce, kale, broccoli, herbs and other leafy vegetables. All these plant use a lot of nitrogen. Soil tends to lose nitrogen quickly due to how soluble it is. So it would a good idea to feed the soil something high in nitrogen like blood meal. One thing that shocked me was that corn actually uses lots of nitrogen but it’s a “fruit crop” so try planting it with you leaf crops.

The fruit crops family is made of all plants who’s flowers turn in to fruit or vegetables, example: tomatoes, peppers,eggplant, squash, etc. Fruit crops thrive off of phosphorus, which they need to set blooms and produce fruit. To boost your phosphorus try using bonemeal . Bonemeal can attract unwanted animals, if you run in to this problem try using rock phosphate. Rock phosphate is a great product, it takes about a year to break down but once it does it last for about 5 years.

Carrots, radishes, turnips, onions and other plants that you grow for the roots make up the root crops. These crops mainly use potassium and don’t use as much nitrogen as the fruit crops. A good source of potassium is greensand, it also will help break down clay in your soil.

Legumes or “beans” will put nitrogen back in your soil! They plants will take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. When your bean or pea plant is done growing cut it at ground level instead of pulling it up, this way the roots decompose in the soil and replenish the nitrogen for next year.

After learning all this, I understand crop rotation better! Since each group of crops uses certain nutrients from the soil it’s just a matter of which group goes where next growing season. This is were my ” handy dandy notebook” helps, I can look back next year to see where I planted what this year.

A good way to do it is:

  • Leaf crops go where you had your beans last year
  • Fruit crops go where your leaf crops where last year
  • Root crops go where you had your fruit crops last year
  • Bean crops should go where your root crops where last year

If rotated like this it would make since that your plant would thrive!

I will definitely be trying this in the coming years to see how it works! All the soil amendments I’ve mentioned are available at Lowe’s and online at Amazon. If anyone has any tips feel free to post them in the comments!

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