Whether you’re running large-scale organic farm or growing a tiny organic garden in your backyard, everything seems to revolve around crop rotation. Believe it or not, crop rotation is more than just switching out what you plant from year to year. Crop rotation is a systematic approach to deciding which plants will thrive best in certain locations and certain times of the year based on environmental conditions. The whole point of it is to sustainably manage the fertility of your soil and reduce the chances of soil-borne diseases so your plants can thrive.
Different crops that you plant have different nutritional requirements, which affect the soil’s overall balance. For example, corn and tomatoes quickly deplete soil’s phosphorous and nitrogen nutrients, while legumes and herbs actually add nitrogen back into the soil. As a general rule, leafy and fruiting crops use up nutrients and root vegetables add them back into the soil.
Many organic farmers choose to plan their crop rotations based on crop families, rather than nutrient use. Since crops from the same families usually suffer from the same types of disease problems, lengthy rotations can help control chronic disease problems without the use of hazardous pesticides. Try rotating plantings of onions and beans, broccoli and legumes, eggplant with cereal grain, or cucumbers and wheat in cycles to reap the undeniable benefits of crop rotation. Most farmers find it best to leave at least two or three years between the times the members of the same crop family into the same area of their fields.
But crop rotation is just one of several sustainable ways to run a farm without having to worry about man-made chemicals seeping into your food. Intercropping involves simultaneous cultivation of several crops in the same field, crop diversity reduces diseases that thrive upon monocultures, and beneficial predatory insects help control unwanted pests the way nature intended. And if those reasons aren’t enough, just think about how wonderful your dinners will taste with a wide variety of fresh, organic, and homegrown fruits and vegetables!