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Crop Rotation is Wise Husbandry of the Land
Many of us learned about the importance of farmland crop rotation in grade school. Generally, it was taught in the context of the 20th Century Dustbowl, that is, at least to us urban and suburban Baby Boomers. However, the treatment of this was rather shallow and other than the concept, most of us, even longtime gardeners, have little understanding of how it works in detail, to say nothing of implementing it in our own garden regime and technique. Crop rotation is not just for large family farms but should be part of a healthy and prolific backyard and small holding garden.
BTW, although the Big-Ag does pay lip service to crop rotation, they generally rely on massive doses of inorganic chemical fertilizers and nutrients to sustain marketable yields. They generally maximize the years between rotation as much as possible skirting the edge of massive crop failure. It is just another example of leadership just kicking the can down the road a little further. Sooner or later the consequences of such poor agricultural practice will manifest.
To get beyond the mere concept of our youth we mustn’t plant the same crops, year after year, in the same plot, row, or bed. However, most people make the mistake of planting crops of the same family in succession. As an instance, where you last year planted tomatoes this year you will plant eggplant. Yes, you’ve not successively planted the same plant but your planted two plants from the same family, that is, the Nightshade family. With minor differences these two different plants utilize the same nutrients and therefore, deplete the soil of the same minerals and nutrients decreasing the overall fertility of the plot where they are grown.
So exactly how do we avoid this? The most effective way is to plant successive planting of vegetables into six recognized plant groups, they are as follows:
Crop Rotation Plant Groups
[ Group I ]
• Cucurbitaceae (Gourd Family)
– Honeydew Melon
– Summer Squash
– Winter Squash
[ Group II ]
• Cruciferae (Mustard Family)
– Brussels Sprouts
– Chinese cabbage
• Chenopodiaceae (Beets Family)
– Swiss Chard
• Compositae (Sunflower Family)
– Globe Artichoke
– Jerusalem Artichoke
[ Group III ]
• Solanaceae (Nightshade Family)
• Convolvulaceae (Morning-glory Family)
– Sweet potato
• Malvaceae (Cotton Family)
[ Group IV ]
• Alliaceae (Allium Family)
• Chenopodiaceae (Beets Family)
• Umbelliferae (Parsley Family)
[ Group V ]
• Gramineae (Grass Family)
– Sweet corn
[ Group VI ]
• Leguminosae (Pea/Bean Family)
– Snap Bean
– Black-eyed Pea
Within each of the groups the plants generally have similar insect, disease, and soil nutritional content characteristics. Thus a disease like tomato mosaic can affect the successive planting of potatoes, eggplant, peppers, or tobacco. This cycle of disease progression can be severed by planting any one of the other food groups in rotation after harvest of the current vegetable.
In addition to this plan, it is also a good idea to let the plot, bed, or row lie fallow for a year, that is, without planting anything, every three to five years. During this fallow period you can apply goodly amount of compost and natural soil minerals and nutrients to prepare for the subsequent year. You will find that when done properly and consistently your yields will improve from year to year. To determine soil fertility it is important to regularly have your soil analyzed by your local agricultural agency, which can be done for a nominal fee. I generally, have this done in spring when the ground can be worked, which generally is early to mid-March.
For other details of soil and soil nutrition please consult past issues of Catholic Rural Solutions.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.