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Re: Crop rotation

  • Subject: [cg] Re: Crop rotation
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2005 18:55:06 -0700 (PDT)

Hi, Noreen,

You raise a good question. 

I believe, in general, that veggie gardens will more
sustainable (meaning in this case they'll be more
productive for a longer period, and leave the soil in
better shape) if gardeners practice crop rotation.
Though nutrient loss may become an issue, I believe
the more worrisome problem if you don't rotate is a
build-up of diseases that affect a particular type of
plant (clubroot in brassicas, wilts in tomatoes...).

Intercropping, composting and mulching are all
valuable techniques that to some degree control this,
following the lead of natural ecosystems. At the same
time, it is a traditional and practical  gardening
practice to group plants with similar requirements
(ie, prepping a rich bed with relatively lower N for
tomatoes, then watering in a way that keeps 'maters
happy). If you group plants this traditional way (ie,
a 'bed of broccoli', a 'bed' of cucumbers, etc), then
rotation over time becomes more important. Also, you
can manage rotation in an advantageous way, for
instance, by following a high demand crop (corn) with
a 'sop crop' to take advantage of residual nutrients
(fall root crops, say).

Rotating in a 20x30 area isn't a problem - you just
draw up a plot plan and calendar, and follow it. But
for microbeds (5x10 or smaller), it's lots harder.
Possibly, community gardens could rotate whole
sections (like 1/4 of the entire garden area) - but
good luck on that, since gardeners become attached to
'their' bed in a specific location, as most people
(including me) are inclined to do. 

Adding a high quality compost (supplemented by compost
tea) might help keep soil microbial activity high
enough and the soil ecosystem divers enough to control
pest buildup and micronutrient deficiencies.  Also, if
you get diseases or pests showing up enough to hurt,
you could try solarizing - here's a reference:
Notice Tucson - they have the heat to make this
Israeli-invented technique work as it should. Finally,
if you can, include cover crops in your garden,
planted over the winter or off season and/or whenever
you have an open space. Buckwheat is a good summer
cover in many places; clovers, fava beans or cereal
rye works in the cold season, depending on location.

The larger question underlying rotation - one that
touches on lots of political issues - is whether or
not intensive vegetable production in the same spot is
sustainable, however we manage it. Many of our
vegetables are varieties of quick growing annuals that
in a natural ecosystem would grow in disturbed soil,
then make way for a more stable forest or grassland
ecosystem. I suspect veggies co-evolved with humans,
adapting to disturbed, nutrient-rich garbage middens.
Anyway, if we stay in one place trying to 'fool Mother
Nature' by repeatedly recycling first stage succession
and heaping on the compost (or, alternatively, heaping
on the chemical fertilizer), sooner or later it seems
we are bound to see problems. I've heard that possibly
problems of this sort are showing up after 2 decades
in Tilth gardens in Seattle - and you can't beat Tilth
for conscientious stewardship. Eventually, we may find
ourselves needing to rotate our urban gardens on a
larger scale, allowing them to revert to woodlands as
the First Nations did before returning, two
generations later, to garden in them once again.

In the meanwhile, I'd rotate, if I possibly could. And
I'd follow Mr. Honigman's fine example, with lots of
compost, diversity and personal engagement (in the
garden, on the block, and in the larger community), if
your garden bed is really too small for a full

Good luck,

Don Boekelheide
Charlotte NC

> Dear Friends,
>  Should gardeners who have small field-style plots
> -- 10 x 10, 10 x 20, 20 x
> 30, etc.-- rotate crops each year? Some in our
> community of gardeners say
> "yes" and others "no". Is there a general guideline
> someone can point me to
> regarding this issue?
>   Your help with this is appreciated.
> Noreen Warnock
> Noreen Warnock
> Project Director
> Greater Columbus Foodshed Project
> A program of Simply Living
> 128 Clinton Heights Avenue
> Columbus, OH 43202
> 614-447-2868
> noreen.warnock@gmail.com
> ect.org>

> From: adam36055@aol.com
> Subject: Re: [cg] crop rotation
> To: community_garden@mallorn.com
> Most of us at the Clinton Community Garden, with our
> 108 queen sized bed (6' x9') raised bed,
> bio-energetic, "lasagne", plots, don't engage in
> crop rotation. We DO engage in year round soil
> amending (nothing like mid-winter weekly visits to
> the garden by people shovelling off the snow, and
> forking in finished compost, and the week's home
> collection can of coffee grounds, egg shells,
> centrfuged veggie remnanants of juicing, orange
> peels, and apple cores, all ground up.)  We also
> have the newspaper, layering with soil and other
> compostables on some beds, as well as others who
> cover their plots with plastic in order to kill
> weeds, or in the fond that somehow the heat will
> kill tomato blights. 
> And we do dump on new manure and amend with fish
> emulsion et al during the season. And we're always
> top dressing with compost, etc. 
> Now if we had more space to garden in - we might
> also crop rotate. So there you are...
> Best wishes, 
> Adam Honigman
> Volunteer, 
> Clinton Community Garden

From: "Ali Mramor" <amramor@CivicGardenCenter.org>
To: <community_garden@mallorn.com>

With plots that small, chances are that the gardeners
are interplanting
a variety of crops in the space, so the chance of
depleting the soil of
one nutrient is probably pretty low.  If there happens
to be gardeners
filling their plot with only one crop, then I would
suggest giving the
soil a break either planting something different or
let it go fallow
after a couple of seasons or every other. 
Adam's method of constant soil amending is of course
always going to
help tremendously.


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