Rotating Crops for Healthier Plants and Better Soil
Gardening is a task that needs a lot of care and attention. However, maintaining the fertility of the soil isn’t easy. Some like to use fertilizers while others are moving toward crop rotation. On the other hand, if you need fresh topsoil for your new garden beds, you can search for “topsoil near me” and buy some from the local store. Let’s check out crop rotation for growing healthier plants and for improving the soil.
- Crop rotation – Crop rotation is just planting different crops in the same location every season or on an annual basis. It can be practiced on the largest industrial farms and the smallest home gardens. Crop rotation allows you to reduce pests and diseases in your garden while preventing heavy exploitation of the nutrient content of your soil.
When pests and pathogens don’t have a host to feed on, the disease isn’t spread, and you get a decent harvest. Moreover, with crop rotation, you can also strategically choose crops from year to year to fill up the nitrogen content of the soil. However, its effects are visible after a few years of implementation. Let’s check out how you can practice crop rotation in your garden.
- Plant families – Optimal crop rotation strategies come from understanding plant families. Same plant families are affected by similar pests and diseases and have similar nutritional demands. So planting tomato one year and replacing it with potato the next year isn’t true crop rotation since both of them belong to the Nightshade family.
Let’s check out some of the most common crop families that are edible and can be grown in your backyard:
- Nightshades – eggplant, pepper, tomato, potato.
- Umbellifers – parsnip, carrot, dill, fennel, parsley, celery.
- Asters – endive, lettuce, artichoke, sunflower.
- Legumes – bean, pea, alfalfa, lentil, peanut.
- Brassicas – cabbage, Brussel sprout, broccoli, kale.
- Amaranths – quinoa, beet, spinach, Swiss chard.
- Cucurbits – gourd, squash, melon, pumpkin, cucumber.
- Alliums – garlic, leek, onion, shallot, chive, scallion.
- Plant diseases – When plants are affected by viruses, bacteria, and fungi, turning them into compost or just getting rid of them doesn’t solve the problem. Pathogens, microbes, and pests that carry those diseases remain in plant debris and can even be buried in the soil. Certain diseases are more sinister than others. For instance, there are some tomato diseases that don’t do significant damage in the first few years. Instead, they build up in the soil over several years and then devastate your entire harvest. This can be prevented with crop rotation.
If the tomato diseases build up in the soil, you’re not going to get rid of them by planting potatoes. They will definitely be affected since they belong to the same family. A common disease that affects that family is caused by late blight fungus. However, that fungus won’t be able to affect your produce if you sow carrots the next year. Replace the carrots with peas next year. It’s a plant that belongs to an entirely different group. This way pathogens in the soil belonging to every group get reduced every year and you don’t need to depend on chemical pesticides to get rid of them.
That’s why your strategy of planting new crops next year depends on the events of this year. For instance, if you planted squash this year and it was infested by squash vine borers, you can’t plant gourds, melons, or something from the same family the next year. This way the borer moths can fly a very short distance and lay their eggs on those plants and the cycle repeats itself. If a plant is affected by a certain pest one year, you need to wait for several years before planting it again. Instead, you need to rotate plants of other families.
- Soil fertility – You also need to think about the relationship the plant family shares with the soil. Every plant sucks out resources from the soil. However, there are some that pump more resources into the soil than they take out. If you rotate the crops that mostly suck out resources of the soil year after year, you’ll need to rely on chemical fertilizers or expensive compost very soon. Instead, you need to rotate a healthy mix of crops that don’t suck out the same nutrients and allow the soil to regain its fertility.
For instance, if you plant root crops like parsnips, they don’t have high nitrogen or phosphorus demand. However, they require a healthy dose of potassium and calcium. On the other hand, there are legumes that fix nitrogen to the soil by attracting soil bacteria that turn gaseous nitrogen in the air into a form that can be absorbed by plants. So, if you plant something that has high nitrogen demand, it’s better to follow it up with legumes the next year.
- Sectioned beds and composting – You don’t even need a lot of space for crop rotation in your little garden. You can make a bed with separate sections and grow tomatoes, peas, and parsnips all at once. You don’t need to worry about profits and that means you don’t need to practice monoculture. After a year you can swap out the crops in those sections and enjoy the same harvest while retaining all the benefits of crop rotation.
While doing crop rotation, it’s also important to keep feeding the soil with a healthy amount of compost before you make the switch. Compost boosts fertility and makes plants more resilient to pests and diseases. With compost, you create the perfect environment for growing healthy plants while the soil gets to replenish its nutrient bank. After a few years, this process would become almost synergetic where you can completely go independent of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Crop rotation has many benefits. Instead of using chemical fertilizers that pollute the environment and fill up the soil with toxins, it’s a better alternative that also allows you to grow healthier plants. If you need topsoil to create new beds for your garden, you can search for “topsoil near me” and buy some from a nearby store.