The Benefits of Crop Rotation

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There has been much discussion about crop rotation. Most  gardeners know about its usefulness as well as the negative impacts traditional monocultural systems have had; perpetuating disease and pests thereby decreasing yields.

Crop rotating is when numerous plant species are used in cooperation with each other. For example, growing a field of corn one year then following it the next year by beans. This adds biodiversity for the entire system and helps to accumulate beneficial biomass in the soil. It also discourages pests and diseases by introducing new plants that those pests have no use for thereby disrupting their ability to survive. Also, soils need the variety in root material and nutrients each plant provides as it grows and decays. Beneficial insects, pollinators, and worms also need 20180904_185323the same diversity for their health and longevity. This spider ate many harmful squash bugs last year so I kept her around to do her thing. I hope to see her babies this year. I also had a couple of Preying Mantis’s last year and I have seen several of their eggs while prepping this season’s beds. Invite the healthy insects to keep the damaging insects under control. Crop rotation is a great way to bring variation into the ecosystem.

I have to put a plug in here about companion planting. It goes hand-in-hand with crop rotating in that it uses the beneficial traits of plants to increase yields. A good example of companion planting is when corn and cucumbers are grown together. Corn is tall whereas cucumbers are low and vining which means corn utilizes a lot of overhead space while cucumbers vine on the ground or grow up the corn stalks. Another example would be growing root crops like carrots with bushy or vining plants such as peas or beans since they have different spacial needs; one needs more room above ground and the other 20190408_094355below ground. Companion planting also suggests plants that are attracted to each other and some that repel each other as well as plants that offer insect protection. There has been a number of books written about companion planting. One that I have used for many years is “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” written by Louise Riotte. There are a number of companion planting charts you can refer to online if you google it.

Rotating your garden beds takes just a little bit of planning and is not hard to do. If you have four or five beds, or even three, just assign them a number and rotate them each year. You can make it more complicated, like I do, by researching the needs of each plant and pairing beneficials together. But I have all winter to sit around waiting for spring so I don’t mind researching the varieties and their needs.

  1. Start with a list of plants you would like to grow.
  2. Then determine how many of each plant you need.
  3. Referring to the seed packet, follow their recommended spacing between plants to help define how much space you will need to allow for that particular variety.
  4. Now, look to the companion planting chart to see what can be grown together.
  5. Next, draw a map of your garden beds. I like to use graph paper where each square can equal 1 square foot, but it is easy enough to use plain paper.
  6. Most likely, your beds do not move from year to year so label each one: 1, 2, 3, and so on or any naming system that suits your fancy.
  7. You’ll need to keep your garden map for future reference, so date it. Start a garden journal to help you track your rotations. Journals are also a great way to track the varieties that you chose, which were successful, and which plants were dismal. This is my Microsoft Word Garden Journal for this season.20190408_094419

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I love learning new things and many of you have unique ideas that can benefit others so please share.

Barbara Pleasant, Maintain Healthy Soil with Crop Rotation, February/March 2010, accessed March 20, 2019, https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/gardening-techniques/healthy-soil-crop-rotation-zmaz10fmzraw

https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/organic-farming-practices/crop-rotations/

https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Building-Soils-for-Better-Crops-3rd-Edition/Text-Version/Crop-Rotations

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It’s SPRING!

20190322_164153 It was 60 degrees on Tuesday and almost 65 today! Time to move these babies outside.

This tray is full of lettuces, Kale, Bok Choi, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Mustard, Spinach, and onions. I have a couple of  herbs in there too but they can’t go outside yet.

I let them harden off during the day for the past week while I built the raised beds they would be going in. Now that the night time temps are above freezing they stay out all night. And I have more lettuce still growing under the grow lights inside. They are too small yet. I have four kinds of lettuce this year: Parris Cos Island, Tom Thumb, Summertime, and Butterhead. I believe they are all cut and come again varieties.

I built 2 more raised bed frames last weekend and got them leveled. 20190318_163210Then I went to a local  nursery and got a pickup load of soil blend to fill them with. First, I layered some homemade compost on the floor of the beds and then shoveled the soil blend overtop. As you can see from the picture below, there is room for more but I will plant the closest one with my seedlings so I won’t add anymore to that one until next year.

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In the picture on the left in the forefront, is the pea trellis. I planted peas there yesterday after soaking them overnight. Tomorrow I will put in the same bed, French Breakfast radish seeds and Rainbow carrot seeds. I might throw in some garlic chives or onion too. The back two older beds container my worm towers which I took out and rinsed for the new season. Last spring I ordered some worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm (https://unclejimswormfarm.com/) to help aerate the soil and add needed nutrients. I need to make two more for my new beds, and 1 for the cinderblock bed. I add kitchen scraps and moistened paper to the towers that have holes drilled in their sides for the worms to come and go.

How fun and satisfying to be outside playing in the dirt again. What projects are you working on in your garden this season?

 

Foolish February

February is the month that tricks you into thinking spring has arrived when warmer temperatures and sunny days bewitch you. Do not do it. Severe frost is still inevitable here in Idaho. If you are not sure, check with your local extension office or online at http://www.almanac.com for a seed planting schedule. Just enter your zip code and it will let you know when to start seedlings indoors or outdoors and when to transplant outside.

Here are a few things that you can do:

~ Butterfly bushes and Hydrangeas, pretty much anything that blooms on new wood, can be cut down to six inches.
~ Fruit trees can be pruned.
~ This is a great time to move any trees or roses as they are dormant, thereby eliminating transplant shock.
~ Any perennials you left standing through the winter for food and cover for birds, can be cut back now.

Start these seeds indoors the last week of February:  Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, leeks, peppers, and certain onions.

What seeds will you be starting this month?

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius. -Pietro Aretino