Episode #17 Move It Along – Crop Rotation

Back in episode 8 of the Self-Sufficiency Made Simple Podcast we covered the difference between perennials and annuals. If you haven’t listened to that episode yet and aren’t sure of the difference make sure you put it on your play next list. 

Annuals are different from perennials in many different ways. They are very vigorous growers going through a full life cycle in under a year meaning they grow from seed to a plant that produces seeds for the next cycle. Annuals are shallow-rooted with many annuals having their roots in the top 30 cms of soil and can dry out very fast in unfavourable conditions and they have high nutrient demand to feed their rapid growth. 

For convenience, many of us grow our annuals all together in the same garden bed.  For example in summer we tend to grow all our tomatoes together, in winter we will group our cabbages, broccoli and brussel sprouts together, have an easy to access garden bed with cut and come again green such as lettuce rocket and spinach and we will often build structures for climbing plants such as beans and peas. 

This is called monoculture and in nature this kind of intensive growing doesn’t occur. 

 

Crop rotation is moving our monoculture crops around to different locations each year. This is done in a planned sequence and can be done 2 different ways which I will get too shortly. 

I want to give you a visual here. Picture you have 3 garden beds. Last year in garden bed A you planted tomatoes, garden bed B you planted lettuce and garden bed C you planted carrots. 

This year you rotate by moving them along the sequence. Garden bed A now has Lettuce, garden bed B has carrots and C has tomatoes. Next year Bed A is carrots, bed B is tomatoes and bed C is lettuce. 

You can see that for 2 whole years you don’t grow the same thing in the same bed.

It might seem like a bunch of extra work and at first, it can be a little tricky to get your head around it if you are not a person who likes planning but it is very worth doing. 

When we have monocultures a number of issues will arise. The same plants all have the same nutrient demands and this can deplete the soil of those specific nutrients and minerals if grown in the same location year after year. 

Using legumes like beans and peas in your crop rotation system is one way to help keep nitrogen balanced and readily available for other crops. Legumes are nitrogen fixing plants. This means They take nitrogen from the air and put it back into the soil in a form that is easily able to be accessed and used by other plants. Legumes are great to plant between heavy nitrogen feeding crops like leafy greens and Solanaceae or nightshade family like tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes. 

Another issue is pest and diseases. Like us pests have particular preferences when it comes to the types of plants that they like and when we plant them on mass it means we have a very concentrated population of pests that eat our crops and lay eggs for the next generation. Beneficial bugs are great at keeping populations of unwanted pests down but they can’t compete with an infestation.  Similar situation with diseases. When we plant the same thing year after year we are cultivating the ideal conditions for disease and soil-borne pathogens to take hold and reinfect the plants year after year. 

I mentioned earlier that there are 2 main ways that people like to plant and rotate their crops. 

 

The first is planting by the family group. This means you only plant brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts) in the same bed, nightshades all together (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, capsicum), cucurbits (melon, cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini), alliums (onion, leek, garlic, shallot).

This system is great if you like detail, have lots of room and are organised. When you start to plan it can get a bit complicated and many new gardeners give up because of the ‘CBF’ factor.. Can’t be fucked. 

On the other hand, John Jeavon’s has highlighted a simpler system of grouping annuals by their feeding needs. 

There are three groups to consider. One heavy feeders, heavy givers and light feeders.

These categories are not all populated equally, with most plants falling into the heavy feeder section. However,using this three-part system to decide on what gets planted where from year-to-year is far simpler and takes much less brain power and that’s why it has me excited to change my rotation plan.

Heavy feeders are those plants that need the most nutrients and minerals. all the nightshades, brassicas, lettuce, kale, celery, sweet corn, cucurbits, herbs and asparagus however asparagus is best in it’s own bed and treated like a perennial.

Heavy givers are those that give back nitrogen and other elements to the soil. All legumes including peas, beans, alfalfa, clover and peanuts. 

Light feeders are a little less demanding and prefer a not so nutrient dense soil and include all the onions, leek, parsnip, turnip, carrot, shallot, sweet potato, swedes, swiss chard (silverbeet) garlic and mustard greens. All root vegetables can be put in here except for radish which are heavy feeders due to their fast growth. 

The rotation system order is heavy feeders followed by heavy givers followed on by light feeders.

To add in extra nutrients and build soil health you can add in a green manure crop in between seasons. Mustard greens, clover, lucerne and one I am going to trial this winter is lacy phacelia aka blue tansy. 

We discussed green manure crops in some detail last week in the autumn todo list episode but basically just broadcast the seed thickly and cover it with enough soil or compost to hid the seed from birds. Water in and when it’s grown in about 6 weeks chop it down and either turn it into the soil or leave it on top to break down. 

As part of any responsible crop rotation practice is to give your soil a rest. Could you imagine if you were pumping out energy all the time and never took time to rest and restore? When we grow food so intensively we need to respect the earth and all the life underground that supports it. 

Resting a garden bed by adding one or more of manure, compost, green matte, then mulching and leaving it for 6 months allows the soil time to regenerate and life to come back into the bed. 

When we give back to our soil it will give back to us. 

Downloadables for your reference below.

If you want tips on how to plan your rotation for garden beds or pots and what green manure crops are best sign up for my weekly tips and hacks email. Link in the show notes. 

This episode is sponsored by my soon to be released Self-Sufficiency Made Simple Composting Masterclass. This masterclass will help you go from wasting food and money to creating your own gold star garden soil system without mess, cost or hard work. The masterclass will show you how to choose, create and get started with your own simple system, all in your backyard.

 

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This Episode Sponsored by

This episode is sponsored by my soon to be released Self-Sufficiency Made Simple Composting Masterclass. This masterclass will help you go from wasting food and money to creating your own gold star garden soil system without mess, cost or hard work. The masterclass will show you how to choose, create and get started with your own simple system, all in your backyard.

Register your interest via email jo@sohfarmlet.com.au

 

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