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Crop Rotation in Your Garden Space

Crop rotation has been utilised as a method for maintaining healthy, productive soil and plants. It involves planting different types of crops in a specific sequence.


Crop rotation is a method used to improve soil fertility by replenishing nutrients that may have been used up by previous crops, and prevent the build-up of pests and diseases that can target specific types of plants.


Plants in healthy nutritous soil often lead to higher yields, better tasting produce and improved overall plant health, reducing the need for watering, maintenance, pest and disease management.


Implementing crop rotation in your garden can be very simple or more complex according to your specific site.


Firstly consider the size of your garden or site, choose the plants that suit your climate and you want to grow then decide which Crop Rotation method best suits your needs.


Different Crop Rotation Methods

There are many different crop rotations that can be used, below are three examples.


Simple Rotation for small spaces:  "heavy feeder" - "light feeder"

If you have a small garden or a potted garden, try simply to plant an annual plant in one year or season, and alternate with a plant from another family the next season or year. Aim for a light feeder first followed by a heavy feeder. Two seasons or years of "Heavy feeders" is not encouraged.

"Heavy feeders" refer to crops that have high nutrient requirements, while "light feeders" are crops that require fewer nutrients.

You still should practice good soil management wtih adding compost, worm castings, manure as needed. You can also try some companion planting or mix up the plants from one family or more.


Examples of heavy feeders and light feeders:

Heavy Feeders:

  1. Tomatoes: Tomatoes require significant amounts of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, to support their vigorous growth and fruit production.

  2. Corn: Corn is a heavy feeder, especially during its rapid vegetative growth stage. It requires ample nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for robust stalk development and grain formation.

  3. Brassicas (e.g., Broccoli, Cabbage): Brassica crops are heavy feeders, particularly for nitrogen and sulfur. They require fertile soil to produce high-quality heads or florets.

  4. Potatoes: Potatoes need ample potassium for tuber development and phosphorus for root growth. They can deplete soil nutrients quickly and are considered heavy feeders.

  5. Squash and Pumpkins: These crops have high nutrient demands, particularly for potassium and nitrogen, to support vine growth and fruit production.

Light Feeders:

  1. Lettuce: Lettuce is considered a light feeder compared to other crops. It has relatively low nutrient requirements and can thrive in moderately fertile soil.

  2. Radishes: Radishes have shallow root systems and do not require high levels of soil nutrients. They are often used as a quick-growing crop between heavier feeders in a rotation.

  3. Beans and Peas: Leguminous crops like beans and peas have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen through symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules. As such, they have lower nitrogen requirements compared to other crops.

  4. Beetroot and Carrots: Carrots are considered light feeders and can grow well in soils with moderate fertility. They do not require excessive amounts of nitrogen but benefit from well-drained, loose soil.

  5. Garlic and Onions: While they have specific nutrient requirements, garlic and onions are generally considered light feeders compared to 'fruiting' crops like tomatoes or corn. They can tolerate soils with lower fertility levels.


4-bed Crop Rotation:

A 4-bed crop rotation system is where four different types of crops are cultivated in a specific sequence over a series of growing seasons.

Example:

Bed 1: Legumes. (Year 1)

  • Leguminous crops are peas, beans, and lentils.

  • Legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules that convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use. They enrich the soil with nitrogen, benefiting subsequent crops.

Bed 2: Leafy Greens and Brassicas. (Year 2)

  • The Brassicaceae family (Cauliflower, Cabbage, Broccoli) require lots of nitrogen for good leaf growth and are generally considered heavy feeders. Kale and mustard greens are also in the Brassica family but not classified a heavy feeder.

  • Plant brassicas in succession. 

  • Brassicas are heavy feeders that deplete the soil of nutrients. 

  • Brassicas help suppress pests and diseases that may have built up in the previous crops.

  • Leafy greens are lettuce, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard/silverbeet. Leafy greens are high in vitamins and minerals. Plant in successsion to harvest continuously throughout the seasons. Leafy greens help shade the soil, reducing evaporation which is helpful in Summer months.

  • Chop and drop when plant is finished so their nutrients and contribute organic matter to the soil.

Bed 3: Root Crops (Year 3):

  • Root crops are carrots, beets, radishes, turnips and potatoes.

  • These crops help break up soil compaction and improve soil structure.

  • They also draw nutrients from deeper soil layers, making them available to subsequent crops.

  • Root vegetables store well for long periods of time

Bed 4: Solanaceae, Cucurbits and Alliums (Year 4):

  • Solanaceous crops are tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. These crops require a fertile soil but are less demanding on nitrogen compared to legumes.

  • Cucurbits such as cucumbers, squash, melons, or pumpkins can also be grown in this bed. Cucurbits are heavy feeders, helping to use up excess nutrients in the soil. Cucurbits are high-yielding crops and help suppress weeds with their large leaves. Allow space for these plants and consider vertical support frames.

  • Alliums are onions, garlic, shallots and leeks. These crops are light feeders and can help deter pests and diseases.


After the fourth year, the cycle repeats itself

  • Each bed rotates to the next stage in the sequence.

  • Additionally, cover crops or fallow periods may be incorporated into the rotation to further improve soil health and manage weeds.


6 bed crop rotation:

A 6-bed crop rotation system involves rotating six different types of crops in a specific sequence over a series of growing seasons.

Example:

Bed 1: Legumes (Year 1)

Bed 2: Leafy Greens (Year 2)

Bed 3: Brassicas (Year 3)

Bed 4: Root Crops (Year 4)

Bed 5: Alliums (Year 5):

Bed 6: Solanaceae and Cucurbits (Year 6):


After the sixth year, the cycle repeats itself, and each bed rotates to the next stage in the sequence.

  • Once again, cover crops may also be incorporated into the rotation to maintain and improve soil health, manage weeds, maintain hydration and prevent erosion.


Fallow crop-Green manure

A fallow crop or green manure crop can be substitued to give the soil a rest and restore the soil biome. The crop chosen is worked back into the soil before it goes to flower or seed. Chop and drop and lightly forking in are recomended rather than digging the soil.


Steps to practice Crop Rotation in your garden space:

1. Plan your crop rotation schedule:

  • Start with a plan of your garden space where you mainly grow annual crops. It is helpful to label each bed.

  • Next make a list taking into account the types of crops you want to grow, the specific requirements of each crop, and the time it takes for each crop to mature.

  • Make a detailed plan outlining which crops will be planted in each area of your garden in each growing season.

2. Choose complementary crops:

  • Rotate crops that have different nutrient needs and growth patterns.

  • Example: If you plant tomatoes in one bed one year, follow up with beans the next year as legumes are good for fixing nitrogen in the soil, and heavy feeders like corn or potatoes can benefit from the extra nitrogen. Then maybe leafy greens the year after that.

  • By rotating different families of plants in this way, you're ensuring that the soil is being replenished with different nutrients each season and can help prevent the build-up of pests and diseases that target specific plant species.

3. Divide your garden or field into plots:

  • Use your divided plan and plan out a rotation schedule that moves crops around each year.

  • Keep track of which crops were grown in each plot in previous years.

4. Rotate crops according to a plan:

  • Make sure to leave enough time between planting the same crop in the same plot to allow the soil to recover and replenish nutrients.

5. Practice good soil management:

  • In between planting crops, add organic matter, like compost, manure, and cover crops to the soil to improve its fertility and structure. This will help replenish nutrients, improve soil health, and reduce the risk of diseases and pests.

6. Monitor and assess your results:

  • Keep track of the health and yield of your crops each season, and make adjustments to your crop rotation plan as needed.

  • Regularly test your soil to determine its nutrient levels and pH, and make any necessary amendments to ensure the health and productivity of your crops.


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