Crop rotation

donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)April 19, 2009

I never knew about crop rotation until this year. (It's been ten years since my last vegetable garden.) This explains alot of the problems I had in the past. So, I want to do it correctly.

My growing season is so long that I can easily get three crops per year. So, here's my question. All the books I have read on potagers say shoot for at least a three year (four is better) crop rotation. But, if I grow, say, a crop of cabbages, followed by tomatoes, followed by beans, all in one year, does this mean I have to wait three or four years before I can grow any of those crops in that bed again? Or, does it mean not to grow the same thing in the bed for at least three more crop seasons?

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ninjabut(USDA z 8,CA)

You might want to ask on the vege gardening board. I wouldn't worry too much about it this year, and have grown several things in the same spot with no problems, but if you do have problems, I've heard it's best to rotate.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 9:17PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

I'm another who's never worried about rotating. With a small garden it's really hard, so I never bothered. Grew tomatoes and peppers in basically the same space for more than 20 years. In the fall I'd grow lettuce and chard in their place, but that's as far as rotating ever went. Never had a problem.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 10:01PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

interesting. I wonder if this is one of those old wives tales that is too scary for anyone to argue with.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 9:10PM
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I doubt it. Ever heard of the Dust Bowl?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 12:21PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Not trying to argue here, but I thought the Dust Bowl was caused by a combination of straight row plowing along with the continual high winds of the Great Plains that blew the top soil up and off the fields (driving alot of the women insane in the process). If you have more info on crop rotation, I would love to hear it. :)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 10:39PM
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marcy3459(6a NE OK)

Crop rotation and the Dust Bowl don't really have anything to do with one another. As prices for grain got higher, the established native grass prairies were plowed under and tilled row crops planted in a low rainfall environment. Ergo, the Dust Bowl.

Now, crop rotation. I'm not much of a 'rotater'. I think the need for rotation comes from soil borne pathogens that harm one particular veg or another. If you are a dedicated soil improver by composting, mulching, etc. you are keeping an optimum environment for the little munchers in the soil that take care of the bad guys. Anyway, that's what I tell myself. I just can't face moving my tomato set ups, cucumber set ups, squash setups, bean setups, etc.!! I do try to plant legumes, etc. in the same area as the heavy feeders each year (peas and tomatoes) and I tell myself it balances out.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 4:13PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Sounds like a good story, Marcy. My only real concern is the fact that Mississippi soils are notorious for harboring early blight in them (nematodes too, at least in some areas).
I haven't grown veggies for about ten years, but back then, I didn't know to rotate, and didn't. I always had decent crops, but definitely did deal with blight even on blight resistant varieties of tomatoes.

I have read that the addition of compost between crops, AND the planting of legumes between disease prone crops will help. I think I will just try that for a year or two and see what kind of results I get, since I can find such precious little info on this subject (even our state Ag school's web site gives it extremely short shrift). Anyone with another idea, feel free to chime in! I want to learn!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 9:43PM
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I'm only in my second year of year-round gardening. But this year I planted the tomatoes very close to where they were last year (not in exactly the same spot), and they are doing very well. After I took the tomatoes out late last summer, I planted a cover crop (mix of legumes and other soil builders that I tilled back in this spring as a green fertilizer). I planted spinach and a few other things January-February, but they didn't germinate well (maybe not watered enough when first planted). I then set out the tomato transplants in early March, and they are doing great.

So in my limited experience with year-round gardening, rotating by crop and not by year seems to be working well.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 12:09AM
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Bogart(6 Ont.)

A quick Google search yielded much info on crop rotation, amongst them:

Here is a link that might be useful: Crop Rotation - why and how

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 12:51PM
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I'm not arguing, either. Merely pointing out a fact that (along with other contributing factors) crop rotation (or lack thereof) was in the mix, as well.

Personally, I've never done it, but I also don't deplete my soil of nutrients year after year after year without replenishing them. And I haven't had any issues with disease, so like ninja, I haven't rotated because of that concern, either.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 3:15PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Out of curiosity, I googled the Dust Bowl and found some really fascinating information. If you are interested, I include a link. Lord have mercy, what a horrible time that was! I was raised in Kansas as a child, but even though I learned about it, I never had the slightest inkling of just how awful it was. (Be sure to look at the picture of a Dust Storm approaching. Gives me the shivers.)

It might just do us all good to be reminded of what devastation man can wreak out of ignorance and/or greed and/or refusing to change.

All that being said, :) I am going to do my best to rotate crops as I can, and will be making an effort to grow legumes as cover crops as well as harvested crops between crops of the nightshade family at least.

According to Barbara Pleasant's "Warm Climate Gardening", if you plant a legume crop (she says to use leftover seed), and turn it back into the soil before it makes seed, you get the maximum benefit of its nitrogen fixing abilities. Who knew?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 10:14PM
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Do you need to plant cover crops if you regularly add compost in the spring to your garden?

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 12:23PM
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How much cover crops help probably depends on the quality of your soil. If you already have pretty good soil, compost may be enough - if your garden is doing well with that, there is no reason to change what works. I have very heavy clay soil, so I do add lots of compost in the spring. But the cover crop also did wonders - it helped to break up the heavy soil and made it easier to mix the compost in.

I plan to use cover crops again as green fertilizer, at least until my soil texture gets better. It does have the disadvantage of reducing your ability to get food harvests year round, but at least here in zone 8 I just do different cover crops at different times. In one part of the garden, I planted a winter cover crop (mix of vetches, bell beans, and oats) in late September and tilled it back in in January. In the other part of the garden, I planted a spring cover crop in January (fava beans) and am now harvesting the fava beans and planting summer crops there. But next year I might be inclined to till the fava beans in early (around March, before the beans are harvestable), since the amount of fava bean yield didn't really justify the amount of space they took.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 6:23PM
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jnfr(z5b CO)

If your plants have had a particular pathogen like mildew or fungus, then replanting the same type of plant in that spot is risky. You're very likely to have the same problem again.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 5:49PM
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diggity_ma(5 MA)

It's true that soil can harbor pathogens. It's also true that you can go for years without having a problem. I think the key is to rotate when you can, but aside from that just be observant and don't obsess about it. If you're amending with compost and mulching properly, then your plants will probably be strong enough to resist whatever disease may be lurking in the soil. The truth is, there are bacteria, fungal spores, viruses etc. on virtually every square inch of planet Earth anyway, so if you think you're going to avoid them by moving your vegetables a few feet away, well.... you won't. In most cases, your best bet is to make sure your plants have all they need so that they can grow strong and fend for themselves. The whole issue of rotation IS a big deal for farmers, particularly when they practice monoculture, which really invites pests and disease. Unfortunately, instead of rotating their crops, most farmers these days just counter pests and disease with lots of toxic and expensive chemicals.

How nice it is to be us! We operate on a smaller scale, largely free of such concerns.

That said, a bit of common sense comes in handy too. If you planted your tomatoes over HERE last year and they got late blight or something, and if it's not a big deal to move them over THERE instead this year, well then you should probably do it. No sense tempting fate.

Regarding planting cover crops if you've added compost in the spring... sure, go ahead. The only thing is... who has time for a cover crop? Your best bet is to keep your potager planted all season long. As soon as one crop is done, stick another in the same spot. If you've done it right, there won't be any time/space for a cover crop and you'll be getting tons of veggies from your potager from spring well into the fall.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2009 at 12:26PM
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All this is very interesting. I am just starting a vegetable garden myself, but I am hoping to put in a potager next year. My Mom has always rotated crops, but she just switches them back and forth each year. Corn and tomato beds (both with beans) switch back and forth. She also swaps out her potato and melon beds on her back hill. She uses a lot of horse manure (I have horses) and that seems to take care of any other problems.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 6:00PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Interesting that this discussion is still underway. Since my original post I have read more on the subject. In Barbara Pleasant's book, Warm Climate Gardening, she suggests rotating each crop season and if possible to grow a legume after each nightshade or brassica crop. She says compost is a great preventative of soil diseases too. Her way is the only way that seems practical to me considering our long growing season, so that's I what I am going to do. Will let you know. Fortunately, we really love alot of different legumes! :)

    Bookmark   August 16, 2009 at 8:34PM
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