Humans tend to be creatures of habit – I know I am. So when I first started vegetable gardening, my instinct was to find a spot for my tomatoes and then plant them there year after year. However, as I later learned, this was not good for my garden. Diversity is what a garden needs – the systematic rotation of plants from different families. There is a technical term for this: “crop rotation”.
Crop rotation in a home vegetable garden requires planning the location of each planting to ensure you are not planting a vegetable from the same family of vegetables in the same location in a three year cycle. Crop rotation is an important part of an organic gardening strategy, helping gardeners:
* Protect against pests and diseases
Vegetables in the same plant family are often susceptible to the same pests and diseases; crop rotation helps protect vegetables by making the location less hospitable to these organisms. By introducing a vegetable in a different family, the pests and diseases die off due to lack of a food source.
* Guard against nutrient depletion
Vegetables in different families have different nutrient requirements. By rotating plant families, you are less likely to deplete the soil of individual nutrients. Some vegetables (like beans and peas), actually add nitrogen to the soil. So rotating beans and peas with vegetables that require a lot of nitrogen can be an effective strategy for protecting soil fertility.
* Improve soil structure
Healthy soil contains a lot of organic material which is home to a host of beneficial microbes. These microbes play an important role in maintaining good soil structure, making it easier for vegetables to grow as roots have an easier time penetrating the soil. Crop rotation protects these microbes by helping the soil retain its organic matter.
To be successful with a crop rotation program, gardeners need to keep records from year to year in order to track the location of each planting within the vegetable garden. Without detailed records, it would be difficult to manage a crop rotation program. For those who do not enjoy record keeping, you can use a garden planner application which handles the tracking for you and places plants in the optimal location considering crop rotation requirements.