When it comes to growing a garden, crop rotation can be a great tool to keeping your vegetables and soil healthy. Crop rotation is important for soil health, but also acts as a method of pest and disease management. A lot of common soil-borne pests and diseases attack or prefer certain plant families. Pests will find a host they like and lay their eggs in the soil so that the larvae emerges in the spring to have a feast in your garden. When you rotate crops, the larvae might not survive because the preferred host is no longer there. Certain soil-borne diseases attack certain plant families. By rotating crop families, you help eliminate the issue of disease and pests in your growing area. If you plant the same families in the same spot year after year, it will become very difficult to combat pests and disease in your garden.

Crops that are related will have similar growing and nutrient requirements. Most related plants will pull around the same amount of soil nutrients. This can make it difficult to keep the soil healthy. By planting a heavy feeder such as cabbage then rotating to a lighter feeder such as onions, you are giving your soil nutrients a break. Knowing that the legume family is a nitrogen fixing crop will help you know what to plant after you planted your legumes. A common follower of legumes would be tomatoes, a heavy nitrogen feeding crop. Soil also benefits from crop rotation by planting deep rooted crops such as carrots and tomatoes to help aerate the soil and pull nutrients from different levels of soil depth. This would then be followed by something will shallow roots such as spinach and lettuce.

Families should be rotated out every three years at a minimum. Some prefer to rotate annually. It is important to document where crops were each year to help you rotate. For a simple-four year rotation you could start by dividing your garden into four areas or plots: Plot One, Plot Two, Plot Three, and Plot Four. In each of the next four years, grow a different crop or different members of the four crop families in a different plot.

Crop rotation is made simpler by having multiple separated garden plots or beds. Not everyone has the ability to have multiple separate plots in their garden or are very limited on space. Some gardeners have a single garden plot divided into multiple zones, and crops are rotated between the zones. The major issue in this method is the plot is usually tilled or cultivated all at once, mixing soil between the zones. Moving the soil around in this manner also moves nematodes and pathogens, negating the effects of crop rotation. If you have a persistent issue with a disease or pest, be sure to thoroughly sanitize equipment as much as possible especially if moving to a different plot.


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