Your Step-By-Step Guide To Crop Rotation
By Sierra Fleenor
District 4 Representative, GPHC
Nutrient-rich soil is any gardener’s best friend. Simple changes to your soil, such as crop rotation planning, can increase the yield of your garden, while increasing the nutrition of the food you grow. Crop rotation is also a natural way to reduce infestations of bugs or mold. What’s not to love about that?
Some plants pull more from your soil than others, so planting the same heavy feeders in the same location year after year will strip your soil down, increase the chances of devastating infestations, and reduce the quality and quantity of your production. Other plants are light feeders, even considered to be nitrogen fixers, which means they take very little from the soil and even frequently put nutrients back in the soil.
The basic premise of crop rotation is that you want to follow heavy or moderate feeders with light feeders to balance out your soil. The extra wrinkle comes in the preferred time between recurring crops: skipping anywhere from two to four years between planting the same vegetable family in the same spot in your garden is recommended.
While this whole process may sound technically difficult, it’s as easy as knowing your vegetable families (or looking them up) and then rotating between heavy or medium feeders and light feeders. A few examples of heavy feeders are tomatoes, kale, gourds, and cucumbers (members of the Brassica, Nightshade, and Cucurbitaceae families). Moderate feeders include carrots, dill, and coriander (Umbellifer family). Most grasses, including corn, and legumes such as peas and beans, are light feeders.
What better way is there to spend our winter months than thinking about the spring and summer when our gardens will be lush and our home grown vegetables plentiful? The following is an easy step-by-step guide to crop rotation so you will have a 2017 garden to brag about.
Step one: Grab a sheet of paper and draw your garden bed. It’s your call about how detailed you’d like to get. One of the gardeners I know likes to draw his garden beds to scale on oversized paper. Personally, I draw a rectangle that looks enough like the bed for me to remember what it is. While you’re at it, draw a couple extra of this same bed configuration for future years. Label one sheet with the vegetables you planted there this year. Don’t forget to label this sheet with the year.
Step two: Determine what kind of feeder your vegetables were this year. A simple online search of vegetable families should pull up a few good articles on your veggies. For now, put that right next to your vegetable. For me, that looks like: Tomatoes – Heavy; Burgundy Beans – Light; Carrots – Medium; Cucumbers – Heavy; and Red Russian Kale – Heavy.
Step three: Take your second sheet of paper with your beds on it. Label it with the year and what you’ll be growing where next year. Where you had something that was a heavy feeder, put a light or medium feeder. Where you had a light feeder, place a heavy or medium feeder.
If you’ve made the same mistake I did, you might be thinking, “Oh dear … nothing but legumes for me next year.” Don’t worry. Let’s get our system figured out this year and next year, we’ll know better where to plant our heavy and light feeders. Take this as an excuse to try and grow something you’ve never grown before. Mix in some light feeders like corn, cereal grasses, and other grasses as well as growing your legumes.
Here’s an example of a garden rotation:
• Bed one: Corn (2016); Tomatoes (2017); Beans (2018); Onions (2019); Dill (2020)
• Bed two: Tomatoes (2016); Beans (2017); Cucumbers (2018); Corn (2019); Tomatoes (2020)
• Bed three: Rye (2016); Cucumbers (2017); Peas (2018); Carrots (2019); Beans (2020)
Now you’re ready to have so many veggies next year, you’ll be complain-bragging about the abundance.
Finally, we are looking for gardeners to join our Helping Hands network. Do you have an interest in helping your Greater Park Hill neighbors garden? Do you have experience gardening or just have some helpful hands to loan? If so, send us an email and we’ll be in touch. Email: email@example.com.
Sierra Fleenor is the District 4 Representative for Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.