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20/04/2009

Crop Rotation reduces the buildup of pests and diseases


crop rotation, three sisters

One of the most common questions on the forums we see is about crop rotation in the vegetable garden. There seems to be a level of mystery about the correct way to rotate your crops, and even a hint of impending doom if the procedure is not followed to the letter.

Read on and hopefully this guide will reassure you and dispel any myths you may have heard.

Crop Rotation has been used in farming almost since farming first started. Ancient farmers found growing the same crops in the same position caused a buildup of pests and a reduction in fertility. So the solution was to grow a winter crop, and then summer crop, and finally leave the ground for one growing season to recover. This three year system was commonly used in Europe un till the 16th Century. Crop rotation in the 16th Century (ha! always wanted to include a quote from Python) was modified to a four year cycle my farmers in Belgium, where Wheat, Turnips, Barley and Clover produced a sustaining system to feed both animals and humans. Not only did the Clover provide animal feed, but it also fixes Nitrogen into the soil and enriches it in the process.

Jump forward to the modern vegetable garden, and the need for replenishing the land and enriching it in the process is achieved by planting Roots, Alliums, Legumes and Brassicas.

The root crops are usually Potatoes, which by the action of sowing, growing and harvesting turn the soil over and prepare it for the next few years. The Onions have an anti-bacterial effect on the soil and they 'clean' the ground ready for the next year. The Legumes have Nitrogen fixing bacteria in their roots, and lastly the Nitrogen hungry Brassicas benefit from all the love and attention lavished on the soil over the previous years and provide you with wonderful Vegetables.

Now before you tattoo this cycle to your forearm and follow it to the letter. This is not a law and you aren't going to have massive crop failures and blight on your land if you miss a cycle or plant the wrong things in the wrong bed. It's a guide of best practice and you should be prepared to break the rules. For example, 'Companion planting' systems can cause conflict with crop rotation, but the results can be worth any risk. Onions and Carrots for example can be grown in alternating rows and help confuse onion and carrot fly. Also 'Three Sisters' planting doesn't fit into a nice little niche when it comes to crop rotation, but it's still a great way to produce a lot of food from a very small space whilst replenishing the ground as it goes.

If you do want a quick way to remind yourself of the rotation plan, chant R.O.L.B (Roots, Onions, Legumes, Brassicas) repeatedly until it is embedded in your mind.

I hope this brief guide has given you the information you needed and can help you grow healthier crops.

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