Crop rotation in the garden - is it possible or necessary?

Jul 23 2012 0 Comments Tags: garden

Crop rotation has always seemed like a good idea.  It made sense not to grow the same plant family in the same garden bed two seasons in a row, and to follow legumes with heavy feeders, and then light feeders, as recommended by my collection of gardening books (see here also).  However, even with a rather large garden, I have found it impossible to stick to a plan.


I've got too much going on, its just too complicated to rotate!
Firstly, do they mean seasons or years?  Is this set up for gardens in climates that don't grow much, if anything, over winter, and so don't have to consider two growing seasons in a year?  My main problem is brassicas.  Currently I have a brassica of one kind or another in each of my four garden beds.  This plant family is just too huge, I am growing asian greens (bok choi, tat soi and mizuna), kale, cabbage, broccoli, radish and turnip, and they don't all fit into one garden bed!  And I want to grow them through winter and summer, so I would need so many more garden beds to rotate them.  Particularly when I want to keep all the root veges together, it just gets too complicated.  


Legumes are my other problem, due to their need to climb, there are only so many suitable places to plant them so that they can climb without shading other areas of the garden.  I find that I keep putting them back in the same places because they work well there.  I also have a problem with self-seeding plant, I don't always get to choose where my plants want to grow and if they decide to come up again where they were last year, I'm hardly going to pull them out if they're doing well :)  this includes everything from lettuce to bok choi to potatoes!  I tend to end up with mixed up garden beds with things squeezed into any available space, rather than straight rows of veges (this also makes companion planting difficult!).  And what about permanent plants?  I have a capsicum "shrub" which continues to fruit each year, I can't really rotate that bed if the capsicum keeps living!

So I have been totally ignoring crop rotation and feeling a little guilty, until I did some research which has made me feel better.  The reasons that are typically given for crop rotation are to stop plant diseases and pests recurring from year to year, and to retain soil fertility.  On the second point, I'm pretty confident that the amount of compost and weed tea that I spread around the garden is sufficient to maintain fertility (as evidenced by my very healthy plants), so I'm not too worried about that one.

The first point is more tricky.  I do worry that I'm encouraging pests and diseases by not managing to rotate the beds properly, but I had a read of a discussion on a forum here, and the consensus is:
  1. many people are growing the same veges in the same garden bed for many years with no problems
  2. rotating crops in a garden is unlikely to make any difference to pests and diseases due to the small scale of most gardens
  3. if you do have a serious pest of disease problem its probably better to just stop growing the crop for a couple of years rather than trying to move it somewhere else
  4. otherwise, if you don't have any problems, just keep growing things where-ever you want....
I think I'll just keep doing what I'm doing then!  Do you rotate your crops and how do you do it??

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