Questions About Crop Rotation Answered
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Published by TOP4 Team
Q: My neighbour produces massive onions and carrots from the same beds every year. I religiously rotate my crops and still only get middling results. What’s going wrong?
You’re assuming that crop rotation is the be-all and end-all of vegetable growing. It’s just one facet. It’s perfectly possible to produce excellent crops in the same piece of ground for years on end. However, it does mean that you have to keep the soil fertility up and the pests down — and clearly, your neighbour is doing just that.
Probably the most important aspect of all is the fertility of the soil. Make sure, first, that it’s well supplied with bulky organic matter — garden compost or manure — to improve the condition of the soil, and then that the crops are fed with an appropriate fertiliser. Rotate the crops as well and you’ll soon be outshining your neighbour.
Q: Is crop rotation really worth bothering with in a small garden?
On balance, yes. But the decision is not nearly as clear-cut as traditional gardening advice might lead you to believe. Modern crop rotation — the practice of growing crops such as peas and beans in a three-year cycle — is a relatively recent custom. It gained widespread acceptance in Britain only in the late 18th century.
It had, and has, two main purposes:
Since each type of crop makes different demands on the soil, changing crops each year ensures that the soil does not become exhausted of particular nutrients, and gives it a chance to recover its balance during the two years it is used for other crops.
Moving crops around discourages the build-up of pests and diseases which feed on or inflict one crop, and which starve without it.
The trouble is that neither of these two purposes has nearly as much force as it once had. Modern fertiliser — organic or artificial — can keep any patch of soil well stocked with all the necessary nutrients, even if the same crop is grown year after year, as it often is on modern farms. And modern pesticides can successfully keep most predators at bay.
Moreover, in a small garden, crop rotation will not stop pests and diseases from following their favourite crops around the vegetable patch. Some pests can make their own way across the few metres involved; others will get a lift on garden tools or your boots. Nevertheless, crop rotation does still have some value for the home gardener with a small patch, though not the traditional value of the past.
By carving up the vegetable patch into three plots, it makes the annual chores of manuring, liming and fertilising seem less daunting — and encourages many gardeners to do a more thorough job.
If you have more questions about gardening, consult these gardening experts.