Rotating crops in small raised beds?

azkayla(Z7b Northern AZ)February 20, 2009

I have three 4x8 raised beds that I've been growing heirloom tomatoes in for 4 consecutive years. I supplement the soil with liberal amounts of compost from my compost bin each year. I have never rotated crops because I don't have anywhere else to move the tomatoes to. So far, my 3 raised beds have produced with extraordinary abundance, and with few problems. But last year, I had an exeptionally high amount of blossom end rot. I'm thinking that the soil has had the calcium depleted, so I've amended the soil with gypsum. The PH is fine. BUT, I'm still concerned because lots of people are telling me my problem is that I need to rotate my crops. So I don't know what to do. I don't have anywhere else I can move or rotate them to, but I don't want to give up my tomato beds. Any advise or suggestions would be profoundly appreciated!

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Crop rotation can help prevent diseases - the most-cited reason for it, but also helps condition soil. The constant addition of compost does a lot for returning organic matter to the soil in a SFG, but some nutrients in compost are not as easily broken down, and some are broken down better by specific plants. BER, as you indicate, is caused by a lack of uptake of calcium, sometimes because of inadequate watering, sometimes because of depleted calcium, and sometimes because the calcium present is not available to the root system because it is not broken down or is in the presence or absence of specific nutrients.

Although I haven't studied the specific mechanics involved in detail, I do know that different species of plant act as dynamic accumulators for different micronutrients. The crop rotation cycle of solanum, root crop, legume exposes the organic material to many different types of dynamic accumulation, and could (I say probably does) serve to condition the soil in many different ways, adding to soil nutrient availability. The presence of mycorrhizal fungi also play a role in proper nutrient uptake.

That being said, how I do crop rotation in my tomato beds (I've only got a single place that works for toms, too) is toms all summer, then a carrot or other root planting in autumn. In spring, peas go in as soon as the ground is workable, and by the time toms need the trellis, the peas are dying back.

I don't know if this is truly helpful, but I don't think it hurts!

(See my other post on myccorhyzal fungi, maybe there will be interesting conversations there!)

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 4:30PM
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engineeredgarden(7, nw Alabama)

If your growing medium is soil, then I would perform a soil test - and amend as needed to bring the nutritional levels up to par. I wouldn't worry about rotation, just keep the soil ph around 6.5, and water them on a consistent schedule - about every 3 days. An addition of some dolomitic lime to the soil would be beneficial, as well.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 4:35PM
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sinfonian(U8b A2 S5 SeaWA)

Other than what's been said, you could make some Self Watering Containers for your tomatoes. I have no room in my beds for tomatoes so I don't grow them there. I grow them in the pathways between my beds. Inexpensive additional growing space. And if you wanted, you could alternate planting in your beds and the SWCs each year. Sounds like you (and most everyone else) could use the extra room.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Sinfonian's garden adventure

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 6:08PM
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I agree with what's been said, though I don't have much experience personally with crop rotation yet. I did the same thing queuetue suggested with TOMS, then roots, and at the moment Peas/cole crops.

I had BER on one of my toms last year before I got the raised beds, and its a pain in the rear! Seriously though mine was just poor soil quality, horrible clay crap, no experience with it in nice compost in my containers.

Here is a link that might be useful: My gardening blog

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 6:46PM
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Melissa Houser

azkayla, You could always plant your tomatoes in a container beside the raised bed for a year or two... or rotate them in and out of a container, year by year.

EG is right. If you keep your soil properly amended AND the ph is good, you don't have to worry much about crop rotation. I actually have two areas where I can trellis my tomatoes and I am switching between those two areas.

Lest I sound like I know what I'm doing, I don't. ;) I'm just starting the second real growing season in my SFG. :)

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 3:08PM
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Dan Staley

Heirloom toms are not bred to be resistant to VFN-type diseases. You certainly hear about folks planting in the same spot for years and nothing bad happens, but you hear the opposite more often, and the GF used to work the Extension counter for a living. I may over-engineer everything I do and apply more caution than most, and I rotate the toms. Maybe this results from too much lab work with soil-borne diseases, but better safe than sorry in my view...


    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 4:16PM
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I'm going with my first non disease resistant varieties this year. I may end up begging you guys for tomatoes ;-)


Here is a link that might be useful: Annie's Kitchen Garden

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 6:09PM
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