The satisfaction of eating food you grew on your own, in your own garden, is indescribable. There’s something basic and rewarding about producing your own produce – you know exactly where it came from, how it was grown, and what fertilizers and which pesticides were used. Plus they taste pretty damn good too. One way to make them taste even better? Rotation crop farming.
Rotation Crop Farming: A Healthier and Smarter Garden
Needless to say, home gardens are really cool: they are useful; they are economical; they are healthy for the earth and for you, the owner. But cultivating a productive garden isn’t as easy as throwing out some seeds, sitting back, cracking a beer and watching your bounty grow, hose in hand. If only it were. Agriculture is one of mankind’s oldest forms of science, and over the millennia we’ve developed a lot of tricks, tips, and methods for perfecting the art of farming successfully. The study is immense.
One of the most effective tricks for improving your garden’s health and crop yield, is known as “crop rotation farming”. Crop rotation farming is, in a nutshell, the systematic approach to picking which crop to plant where, and how to cycle each from one year to the next. Before you get intimidated by that description, just hear me out: this form of farming is a lot easier than it may at first sound – it does require marginally more effort on your part, but the payoff is well-worth it.
Crop rotation is not a new trick. It is not a trendy hipster secret or some kind of sexy life-hack. This is an ancient, tried and field-tested method for maintaining quality soil, healthy plants, and high crop yields. It goes back as far as Mesopotamian farmers, who employed basic crop rotation tactics over 8000 years ago! Anything that has been around for that long has to be pretty effective!
Why Crop Rotation is SO Beneficial
Well, actually I’m going to start by explaining why monocrop (or monoculture) farming is so bad. Monocrop farming is exactly what it sounds like – farming the same crop in the same field season after season without change. It’s basically the exact opposite of crop rotation farming.
Monocrop farming is bad for two main reasons: First and foremost, it’s unhealthy for the soil. It doesn’t allow the soil any time to recover and offers no variation in nutrients – meaning that fertile farming soil dries out and essentially dies. And when your soil goes bad, your crops die, and when there’s no crops to hold down the soil, you get the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. And nobody wants another Dust Bowl.
The second reason is most easily explained by the old adage, “Never put all of your eggs in one basket.” If a particular type of parasite or disease breaks out and all of your crops are the same, you are vulnerable to losing all of your produce in a single fell blow, with nothing to fall back on. Think of Ireland’s Great Potato Famine…
Conversely, crop rotation farming diversifies the soil nutrients, making a rich and highly fertile blend. This makes it easy to grow plants, which prevents soil erosion, and makes produce grow plentifully. It’s a win-win-win situation – the environment is happy, you’re happy, and your crops are happy (until they’re eaten, that is). It also helps reduce problems with soil dwelling insects and soil borne diseases.
The How To
You don’t need a degree in agricultural sciences to perfect the art of rotation crop farming – you just need to put in a little extra work (which pays off big in the end). You don’t even need that big of a garden, either. Size matters little when it comes to rotation crop farming – whether you have tens of acres of land you want to utilize solely for agriculture, you’re garden is just a small corner of your backyard, or even if you just have a handful of ceramic pots – rotation crop farming works on all scales.
It is best to have separate beds for separate families of produce, but you don’t need to. You can just divide one bed into several crop areas and rotate them thusly. The only downside to this is that, if you do get a soil borne disease or parasite, it will spread much more easily from crop to crop.
Familiarize yourself with the different families of produce. This is how you will group your rotation batches. Here is a general list of families to plant by:
- Nightshades (Solanaceous): Tomatillos, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, peppers, potatoes
- Squash, Melons, and Cucumbers (cucurbits): Musk melon, cucumbers, summer squash & zucchini, watermelon, gourd, pumpkin
- Morning Glory: Sweet Potato
- Goosefoot (Amaranthaceae): Spinach, quinoa, beet, orach, chard,
- Sunflower (Asteraceae): Jerusalem artichoke, sunflower, lettuce, artichoke, endive
- Cole (Brassicas): Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, radishes, collards, kohlrabi, turnip, rutabaga, mustard
- Onions: Onions, chives, leeks, garlic
- Peas (legumes): Runner beans, garbanzo beans,peas, fava beans, bush beans, peanuts
- Grasses: Millet, corn, rice, wheat, barley, rye
- Parsley: Carrots, parsley, parsnips, celery, cilantro/coriander, fennel
You can have as many different families in rotation as you want, but generally, you need at least two to flip-flop crops. Then, after each season, when the crops have yielded their bounty, rotate all of your crop families to a new bed when you’re ready to replant. Rotation crop farming is like musical chairs for a garden!
It is also highly encouraged to keep a bed/field “fallow” each season. That is to say, leave one bed/field unplanted so that the soil can truly rest and recuperate. If your land is large enough, many farmers keep livestock (like chickens and sheep) on their fallow field, because the animals aerate and fertilize the soil even more, so that when you do plant there next season, the soil is extra fertile and super healthy.
If you don’t have livestock, you can plant a “cover crop” on the otherwise fallow field/bed – like alfalfa, white Dutch clover, or rye – to add fertility and improve drainage. That way you still get some use out of an otherwise empty bed.
Do It the Right Way
If you’re planning on starting a garden, or already have one and want to improve upon it, crop rotation is the most effective method for doing so. There are no drawbacks to it – only positive effects and benefits for you and your environment.
This video posted by GrowVeg makes crop rotation simple:
As I mentioned, there’s something truly, genuinely good about growing your own food. But it isn’t always easy, and there are a lot of tricks and methods for it that can sometimes get confusing. That doesn’t mean they are unachievable though! So whether you are growing produce in a tiny greenhouse, in your backyard, or on a decent sized farm, you might as well do it the right way – with crop rotation. You will be surely glad you did.
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