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Beginners Guide To Gardening: Crop Rotation

baby broccoli plant

Organic Rhythm

Organic gardening is an environmentally friendly and healthy way of gardening. It's also a way to garden in harmony with nature -- and we do like to be in harmony, especially when it's an easy rhythm one we can remember without much effort.

Basically, crop rotation is the planned order for planting specific crops on the same field (or bed). It's a key component to organic gardening, because it helps to prevent disease and improves the garden soil by replenishing the nutrients. Rotation of crops should be done on a three to four year plan, depending on which type of vegetables you're growing.

Clean Vs. Replenish

First thing to keep in mind: Some plants "clean" the soil of nutrients while others replenish or require a light dose.

Corn uses a lot of nitrogen, so planting it after a crop of nitrogen-fixing beans will do wonders for your growth.

Cabbage and broccoli are heavy feeders, so rotating them with light feeders such as carrots and onions will help keep the soil healthy.

Veggies On The Move

Second thing to remember: You don't want to plant the same family of plants -- or group -- in the same spot season after season.

Planting the same family of vegetables in the same spot will amount to a poor start because the pests will be ready and waiting to gobble them up! Some insects and disease-causing organisms are host-specific and will attack plants that are from the same family. For example, cucumbers leave toxins in the soil where they have been planted that can cause tomato plants to die -- same category of plants as in "fruits."

An example of healthy crop rotation for a garden would be beans -- leaves -- roots -- fruits:

  • beans and peas (beans)
  • cabbage, broccoli and spinach (leaves)
  • carrots, onions and beets (roots)
  • squash, pumpkin (fruits)

You can also think of them in terms of light feeders vs. heavy feeders:

  • beans and peas (light)
  • cabbage, broccoli (heavy)
  • carrots, onions and beets (light)
  • squash, pumpkin and tomatoes (heavy)

I've seen some sources suggest beans-leaves-fruits-roots, which just goes to show this gardening business is as much art as it is science. But don't fret! The key factors remain the same: don't plant the same family in the same bed year after year. Follow nitrogen-fixing beans with nitrogen-loving plants (leaves and corn). Rotate heavy feeders with light feeders to prevent nutrient depletion in your soil.

Depth And Height

The rotation of crops not only benefits the garden by helping to prevent disease and insect problems, it can also benefit the soil porosity. Rotating crops with different root systems will help the soil structure by aerating it and adding nutrients at different depths of the soil. Another way to look at these groups is by their roots:

  • beans (deep roots)
  • leaves (shallow roots)
  • roots (deep roots)
  • fruits (shallow roots)

For those energetic gardening types, you can get really specialized and alternate based on tall crop section growers like tomatoes, corn, beans and cucumbers, or you can go with a low crop section including cabbage, carrots, onions and peppers. You can also differentiate between night shades (tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes) and grasses (corn).

It all depends on what you like to grow and how much you want to know!

No matter which method you choose, working with nature is the best way to go. Crop rotation is a practice that has been around for centuries with proven benefits but best of all, growing organically means no chemical fertilizers or pesticides that may prove harmful to your health!

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