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Crop rotation in the garden - is it possible or necessary?

Crop rotation has always seemed like a good idea.  It made sense not to grow the same plant family in the same garden bed two seasons in a row, and to follow legumes with heavy feeders, and then light feeders, as recommended by my collection of gardening books (see here also).  However, even with a rather large garden, I have found it impossible to stick to a plan.


I've got too much going on, its just too complicated to rotate!
Firstly, do they mean seasons or years?  Is this set up for gardens in climates that don't grow much, if anything, over winter, and so don't have to consider two growing seasons in a year?  My main problem is brassicas.  Currently I have a brassica of one kind or another in each of my four garden beds.  This plant family is just too huge, I am growing asian greens (bok choi, tat soi and mizuna), kale, cabbage, broccoli, radish and turnip, and they don't all fit into one garden bed!  And I want to grow them through winter and summer, so I would need so many more garden beds to rotate them.  Particularly when I want to keep all the root veges together, it just gets too complicated.  


Legumes are my other problem, due to their need to climb, there are only so many suitable places to plant them so that they can climb without shading other areas of the garden.  I find that I keep putting them back in the same places because they work well there.  I also have a problem with self-seeding plant, I don't always get to choose where my plants want to grow and if they decide to come up again where they were last year, I'm hardly going to pull them out if they're doing well :)  this includes everything from lettuce to bok choi to potatoes!  I tend to end up with mixed up garden beds with things squeezed into any available space, rather than straight rows of veges (this also makes companion planting difficult!).  And what about permanent plants?  I have a capsicum "shrub" which continues to fruit each year, I can't really rotate that bed if the capsicum keeps living!

So I have been totally ignoring crop rotation and feeling a little guilty, until I did some research which has made me feel better.  The reasons that are typically given for crop rotation are to stop plant diseases and pests recurring from year to year, and to retain soil fertility.  On the second point, I'm pretty confident that the amount of compost and weed tea that I spread around the garden is sufficient to maintain fertility (as evidenced by my very healthy plants), so I'm not too worried about that one.

The first point is more tricky.  I do worry that I'm encouraging pests and diseases by not managing to rotate the beds properly, but I had a read of a discussion on a forum here, and the consensus is:
  1. many people are growing the same veges in the same garden bed for many years with no problems
  2. rotating crops in a garden is unlikely to make any difference to pests and diseases due to the small scale of most gardens
  3. if you do have a serious pest of disease problem its probably better to just stop growing the crop for a couple of years rather than trying to move it somewhere else
  4. otherwise, if you don't have any problems, just keep growing things where-ever you want....
I think I'll just keep doing what I'm doing then!  Do you rotate your crops and how do you do it??

Comments

  1. I would think that it depends on how large the garden is for this to be effective. If all plants are in a small area, it may not make any difference if you move them around. If you can move carrots from one end to the other and you are several hundred feet then it could make a difference.

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  2. I think the way the soil is fed is more important but do change areas depending on where is empty for what I plant. If I have an empty spot something goes in regardless of if it was there last season or not.
    It usually works for me.
    Pest control is a daily *hands on* thing.

    Barb.

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  3. I'm like you. Plants self seed - who am I to move them if they want to grow there! There is only so much room and to wait for one crop to finish so I can plant another when there is space somewhere else that would do means I plant where there is room. I do try to move the tomatoes to different beds - they seem to do better but everything else either grows and flourishes or just sits there. Luck of the draw at times. Plenty of fertiliser does help as does digging in some fresh compost/worm castings. I think old /sour or worn out soil is more likely to cause problems than a well manured bed. The "experts" say you should crop rotate which is probably fine in their gardens but as we both know every garden is very different just like every gardener and I think we should do what works for us. In the end if we get fresh, organically grown veg then we have done something right.
    On a slightly side note - the lacy lady peas are up and have their first leaves. I'm so excited
    ; - )))

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  4. I saw something once that said if you think about how natures manages crop rotation is to drop there seeds a little away from the parent plant. That could be a few miles if a bird takes it, or a few feet if the wind does. Either way, its in a different spot. So I understand its a matter of scale. At least a few feet would be good. Then we also do the kind of rotation you mention - a heavy feeder then a legume to re-nitrogenate the soil. Seems to work for us....

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  5. Personally I think that the crop rotation idea in a small garden is more important for gardeners who sow masses of the same veg in rows close together - like some of the older gentlemen at my allotment. If you have a good mix of species in every bed (like you and me both) I don't really think it matters too much unless you've spotted disease. Even if some plants take more nutrients from the soil than others it will be compensated by you layering on compost, muck or even my digging the bed over. So don't worry :)

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  6. I do pretty much the same as you Liz except many of my beds are raised.I really should have moved my sweet potato bed ages ago, but it is in such a good spot and they always do well. I did pay for my tendency to plant carrots in all of the beds all of the time...I had 3 blissful years of always having carrots , as I just let them go to seed in the same bed, then disaster struck- I can't grow carrots in my raised beds anymore as the beds are now infested with nematodes and the carrots are inedible.I have since learnt I should have been growing marigolds with them to prevent nematode build up.

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  7. The only thing I have been really trying to concentrate on is not growing solanacea in the same bed each year. We have a bad problem of wilt in the soils around here. So this year I had a prize eggplant volunteer in the middle of the bed. Oh well! You are right some beds are just better for certain crops...

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  8. I'm with Tanya, if you have a poly-culture rather than a monoculture in each bed, you are already likely to confuse and deter pests and disease. If they see a whole bed full of their favourite food they are obviously more likely to go for it then if it is just interplanted amongst many other plants, some of them they may positively dislike.

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  9. Oh yes! How I identify! I always let the volunteers grow in the garden so they end up everywhere. I also keep meaning to rest the beds but there is stuff in them. We use the chooks on the garden sometimes and it works so well but again, I find it hard to put them on a bed coz there's always something still growing. And like you, we have plenty of room but it never seems to work like it does in the books! The bonus of our method is 'finding' things you didn't know you were growing. I love gardening surprises!

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  10. phew, I was worried that everyone would tell me I was doing it wrong!! Sounds like we are all a practical bunch :) I do agree that its probably worth moving tomatoes (although they are the worst for just coming up where-ever they please), but the rest can just go where it fits, with a lose plan if I can manage it. I see that I have stuffed up my companion planting again, apparently my beets don't like the lettuces, and my broadbeans probably don't like the spring onions, I really must try to keep on top of that!

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  11. I'm so glad you wrote this post because I have the same situation - only certain places good for climbers, shady spots that can only handle leafy greens and potatoes that keep coming up where they were planted before. I feel much better about just popPing things in where they fit now. After reading the comments I will try to move my carrots this year though.

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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