Change. Not too many people like change, that’s for sure. But for gardeners, change may be the #1 thing you can do in the garden to get a better harvest. What am I talking about? Rotating your vegetable crops.
Rotating crops is a tough sell for many gardeners. We tend to be creatures of habit. Plus, in our minds the tomatoes “always” go here, and the squash does best over there…and please don’t ask me to move my bean poles and trellises! However, science tells us that it is important to rotate our crops from time to time. It’s good for our soil and it is even better for our harvests! By rotating our crops, we cut down on diseases and pests as well.
Crop rotation doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need to do is think about where you grow each of your veggies and plan to make changes as necessary from year to year.
Heavy Feeders vs Light Feeders
Some vegetables are heavy feeders, meaning they are quite hard on your soil. These are the plants that take up the most nutrients and resources from the soil each and every growing season. They literally “suck” out the soil’s nutrients year after year. While tomatoes are the #1 crop grown in home gardens, wouldn’t you know they are also the heaviest of feeders. Corn is another heavy feeder we like to grow in our gardens, as well as peppers, eggplants, broccoli, and cabbage.
Light feeders are more gentle on the uptake of the soil’s nutrients. Most root vegetables fit into this category. Onions, carrots, beets, potatoes – as well as herbs, cucumbers, melons, and squash are considered to be light feeders. Then there is the group I like to call the “power” plants. This group of plants actually give back to the soil, returning nutrients rather than taking away from it. Legumes are the best of the “power” plant category. Beans, peas, and other legumes like peanuts actually enrich and nourish your soil.
A Simple Rotation Schedule Anyone Can Follow
Heavy feeding crops should be moved around periodically (each year or so) and then should be replaced with a crop that will work to rebuild the soil nutrients. Peas, beans, and cover crops are good choices for the first year, to beef up the soil with nutrients. Then, the next year you can put light feeders in the same spot. It is a good idea not to return the heavy feeding plants to the same area until the third year or so. So a simple rotation schedule for one plot or area would look something like this:
Year 1 – Heavy Feeders (Tomatoes, Corn, Peppers, Eggplant, Brassicas)
Year 2 – “Power” Plants (Peas, Beans, Legumes)
Year 3 – Light Feeders (Onions, carrots, beets, potatoes, herbs, cucumbers, melons, squash)
Year 4 – Return Heavy Feeder Plants
And repeat the process over and over. It’s actually easy to do… it just takes a little forethought and planning on your part. And, you’ll be amazed at the results. You’ll notice healthier soil, healthier plants, and larger harvests.