Do I REALLY need to rotate crops?

djsgravely(z6 PA)March 12, 2007

Here's my situation: I have an organic garden plot that's about 40' x 60'. I've been growing in it and building the soil with tons of compost, compost tea, leaves, organic fertilizers like kelp meal, phosphate rock, greensand, etc. I've gotten outstanding results with almost all crops.

My question is based on crop rotation. I put in 24 heirloom tomato plants every year. I plant on 6' centers, so they take up a good percentage of the available space. Last summer we had some pretty brutal heat and humidity here in eastern PA, and some of my plants were affected by late blight, although not terribly so.

I can't really practice rotation, because there's not enough space to do so. (A lot of my garden is also devoted to permanent plantings of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, asparagus, horseradish, etc.)

I'll put my plants up against anybody's for size, quality, and yield. Aside from a couple of instances of blight, which may have been unavoidable given the weather conditions (plenty of people around here lost all their plants while mine were still producing well), I'm not so sure that I have to worry about rotating crops as long as I amend the soil, mulch heavily, and basically do what I've been doing.

What do you think? Am I heading for an eventual crash if I keep growing tomatoes in essentially the same spot for a long time?

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harleysilo(7 Roswell,GA)

Plant each seed with a dead fish. Wait that's for corn!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 10:31AM
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djsgravely(z6 PA)

I didn't know that even saying the word "organic" was an issue. No, I am not certified organic, nor do I have any plans to do so. I do say that my produce is organic with a clean conscience. I sell my tomatoes at a local farmers market, where I've been telling people that they're organic for 3 seasons, and thus far nobody has called me out on it. The day some Fed starts hassling me is the day I'll stop saying I'm organic -- maybe. I would hope that our illustrious government has better things to do.

I've been no-till for about 3 years now. I put down a 3-4" deep layer of shredded leaves every fall, and after everything gets planted in the spring and the soil has warmed up some I put down a layer of straw or spoiled hay mulch. I never have to cultivate, only pull a stray weed here and there, and I rarely need to water my plants. I'm a big believer in year-round mulch.

I was considering putting down 4' square pieces of landscape cloth this year as a further barrier to soil-borne disease. I'll cut a small hole in the center for the plant to grow through. What do you think of that idea?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 11:34AM
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djsgravely(z6 PA)

Thanks for bringing up good points....

Yes, I remove and burn all old plants, regardless of their condition. Cages are sprayed with a bleach solution, hosed-off, and then given a once-over with a weed-burning torch for good measure.

I use a copper-based fungicide, along with bi-weekly applications of aerated compost tea to the foliage.

I call it late blight because when it occurs it's in mid-to-late August, when some of the fruits get small brownish spots on them, and yes, the foliage does die back, although I've found as we transition from summer to fall some of them have a resurgence of healthy new growth -- almost like the blight has run its course.

I totally lost my first plant this past summer. It was a Yellow Pear. The other plants most affected were Kellogg's Breakfast and Pineapple.

Thanks for your feedback on this. I'm thinking I'm on the right track, but it always helps to hear from others.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 11:47AM
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just from what you say Im guessing early blight. Both can hit anytime. Both are in your area according to the crop reports I get.

Late blight SMELLS BAD. It looks like gray fungal yech too. It's less about "spots" and more about patches.

Early blight has lots of spots that may grow together. It can attack seedlings (stem canker phase), leaves or fruit.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 12:12PM
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triple_b(BC 5b)

you know, I used to put a fish head into each tomato planting hole and my 'mater crop was HUGE.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 2:30PM
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I think the poster was making a great point and the question seemed to me to be mainly on crop rotation on tomatoes. He casually mentioned gardening organically.

I myself am able to rotate about 50% of my crops now as well as in the past, but some just seem to wind up with tomatoes in the same spots. I add compost and mulch heavier on those areas and do not notice much difference with those plants as ones that are growing where tomatoes were not the previous year.
I have since relocated but that was my experience in the past.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 2:35PM
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Although I've never had serious issues with foliage disorders, I do have limited growing space and pretty much grow only tomatoes and a few peppers and cukes and haven't the option of rotating crops.

So, I would be very grateful for any tips regarding organic procedures particularly to prevent and secondarily to treat foliage disorders since I'd rather not use chemicals unless absolutely necessary.

If anyone has some proven organic procedures for tomatoes specifically, please offer them here since I don't visit the "organic" forum and am only interested in tomato applications.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 2:48PM
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daria(Z5A ME)

I've been using the landscape fabric for a few years now, because I just don't have time to pull weeds (as you can see by my onion rows... this year they too will be planted through fabric). You can see that it was fairly successful if you visit my picture page:

Last year I set up an irrigation system underneath the fabric for automatic watering - the year before I had soaker hoses on top and that wasn't as useful. I should have taken more pictures of the tomato plants in full glory, but that was when they took down their trellis with their weight. This year I'll figure out a way for that not to happen.

A few of my tomato plants right along the lawn edge did get some fungal infection of some kind, and they were the only ones where grass cuttings came into the garden so this year the tomatoes are going right in the middle of the garden. They were also determinate plants, so it could have been a partial fungus issue.

I try to stay away from non-organic gardening methods, but of course I'm just one person and I'm sure I'm not doing anything perfectly. If the landscape fabric makes my garden inorganic, well, I guess I'll have to live with that. :-) But that's the beauty of gardens - we each get to succeed as best we can in our own way!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 2:48PM
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djsgravely(z6 PA)

I've done a little more checking, and although I didn't take any photos of the affected fruits last summer, when I Googled "anthracnose" the photos I found sure looked like what I was seeing last year.

So.... is anthracnose brought in by the winds, soil-borne, or both?

As I already mentioned in my first posting, last summer here in Bucks County, PA was brutal. High heat and humidity ended almost everybody's pumpkin season (including mine, for the first time), although I have a separate pumpkin patch about 50 yards from my vegetable garden. Many lost most, if not all their tomatoes as well. That didn't hurt my sales.

The heat and humidity was what I blamed for my tomato problems. Do you guys agree that it's conducive to the spread of anthracnose?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 4:27PM
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I am not a tomato scholar. I am a back yard gardener who enjoys growing flowers, bulbs and edibles. Tomatoes and lillies are my favorites. What a combo, eh?

I grow organically. Have so for many years. I only can provide anecdotal evidence. My mulch of choice is compost. Lots of it. It is great when it splashes up onto the leaves during heavy rains. Plants seem to enoy it. I have very little disease. When I get a little leaf speck or spot I ignore it. No need to fuss. Maybe I'm just lucky. I have wonderful tomato crops. I have been growing my toms in the same space for 16 years now. I do not till. I lasagna compost in the fall and compost mulch when the plants are set out in spring. Works for me.

My mother has been growing tomatoes in the same space for about 40 years now. She doesn't till either. She isn't organic but doesn't go crazy with the blue stuff. She doesn't use compost. She has decent results.

I say don't sweat the small stuff. Relax and have fun with it. I do.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 9:19PM
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Good post bigdaddyj.

And let me chime in with similar thoughts.

Commercial farmers/growers grow the same things
in the same fields year after year.

Same with vinyards and orchards. You don't hear anyone
saying you should rotate them, do you?

Why can't us small time/part time gardeners do what the pros do?

Good soil maintenance I believe, eliminates the need for
crop rotation.

Just my two cents.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 12:45AM
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tomstrees(z6 NJ)

I've been planting in the same spot for a number of years now and I've had minimal problems. I empty my entire compost bin into the garden in the fall, and have been expanding the garden foward and sideways every season ...

I think over-crowding has been my problem: the more air circulation the better (me thinks)


    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 9:20AM
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I rotate my tomatoes with other plantings since my garden is made up of permanent long rectangular beds with walk rows in between. We keep a map of what is in each section and avoid replanting in the same area each year. Last year, despite that practice, I had big problems with diseases on my tomatoes, worst in a long time. I think it was magnified by multiple causes, like some less-then-tolerant varieties I tried, weather, crowding and maybe just highly infected soil. I'll still rotate this year because I can. I can't say for certain the amount of advantage it may provide, especially after last year! I have heard that the recommended cycle for some plants has a two year rest period between replanting the same crop. Who would have the space for that?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2007 at 1:33PM
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iloveroosters(zone4-5, NH)

I have done crop rotation as much as possible in my small garden (20x8) approx. I have gardened in that spot for about 14 years now. Until last year, I never had a problem with disease or insect pests destroying my crops, although last year in NH, we had two record floods which may have significantly contributed to some of the crop issues. Where in the past, I have always done well with zucchini and summer squash, last year, I had squash bugs and blossom end rot that killed my entire crop. cucumbers however were fine. They were planted among the squash.
My tomatoes, which were planted in a brand new plot, supplemented with a small amount of compost and a top dressing of goat manure did wonderfully. I try to garden as chemical free as possible.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 9:52AM
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I'm another one with a small garden and just about a third of it is tomatoes (maybe a bit more).
So the tomatoes move from one side of the garden to the other each year. Things being the way they are (I'm 82 and not in to hard labor), the tomato patch doesn't get dug over - either I or my crew dig a hole, add composted cow manure and plant tomatoes. But in a place where no tomatoes grew last year. Last year's tomato patch gets turned over and is planted with sugar snaps, beets, swiss chard, zucchini, whatever - with composted cow manure in the rows.
Can't say that I'm organic since I use chemical fertilizers and do spray with Daconil - but never have had to use an insecticide in the vegetable garden.
I do use row covers on greens and squash.
have been growing veggies in this little patch for more than 25 years and it gets more productive each year.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 4:57PM
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Well, I wouldn't worry about rotation if you really can't manage it easily. I plant tomatoes in the same beds each year because of my sun/space limitations, and I can't see any problem with it. I have pretty great results. The weather seems to me to be the biggest factor dictating success, and it can heavily influence disease onset, so I think it's hard to say that rotation is the key to limiting disease.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 8:09PM
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Two reasons to rotate crops:

1. Different crops use different nutrients, so by rotating, there are fewer problems with nutrient depletion (this would be for micronutrients and trace nutrients).

2. Disease.

Nutrient depletion is no problem - just replace the nutrients! That means using a complete fertilizer with lots of trace nutrients, like manure or compost.

Disease is a bit trickier. You can remove old plants, put down a good mulch barrier between soil and plants, and spray to prevent disease when favorable conditions arise. But most home gardners can't rotate crops, and it doesn't keep them from gardening, so it still works, it's just not optimal.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2007 at 1:39PM
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Hi all,I just love this forum.
I've only been gardening for maybe the past decade in the place i'm at,but i've found that with tomatoes it is best to rotate.In my old garden(which was 20' by 20'),I would just move the mater patch to the next quadrant of the garden.I grew tomatoes, peppers, cukes, broccoli,cauliflower and lettuce. This year I've gone to a raised bed with amended soil, and its working out just fine.
Each year in the old garden I would amend heavily with compost. My compost was made of leaves,grass clippings,sawdust,newspaper(shredded),coffee grounds,straw,just about any fruit rind garbage,a bit of topsoil, and very little cow manure.This yrs compost will go into the garden next spring,(08).It has worked very well, although I never seem to make enough of it.I personally think that the only real element that needs close watch when re-planting is nitrogen.Tomatoes draw a lot of it for growth.
You said your plants are on 6 ft squares,so you may be safer that most of us because of spacing.
By the way: I used to hail from Montgomery co. in Pa.the ONLY time I miss all that heat & humudity is when I look at my tomatoes.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2007 at 3:12PM
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