Nancy Wiersma: Why it is important to rotate your veggies

Published 7:53 am Tuesday, August 4, 2009

First, let’s start off by saying we are all wanting to grow our veggies with less, no, hopefully no pesticides or fungicides.

Not only are they not good for our own health, as well as our ecosystem, and all of God’s creatures and critters as well.

So then if we can apply a few short cuts along the way, this is even better.

First, let’s start off by saying  this, at its simplest, crop rotation simply means not growing the same vegetables in the same place year after year.

Susceptibility to pests and diseases run in plant families.

Leave at least two, and preferably three or more, years between the times you plant members of the same crop family in an area of your garden.

If you don’t rotate your crops, three things are likely to happen: diseases; pests; and soil exhaustion.

When we plant or transplant or seeds in the same spot year after year, this gives the pathogens and diseases that may be in our garden’s soil a “Helping hand.”
After all, we want to “starve” them out – not assist them.

Here’s how crop rotation works: 1.) By planting a different crop in a different spot, the fungal and viral population will have no plants to infect. With no food source, the fungi will die off. But those tricky, tough fungal sports may have a trick or two up their sleeves yet as they go dormant over the winter and even for a year or two, so go out there and plant a different crop in that spot.

2: Many pests winter over in the soil as eggs or larvae. When they emerge in the spring, they are depending on finding their favorite food nearby. Very fortunate for us if the bug’s preferred meal isn’t handed to them on a platter, so to speak.

The farther a hungry bug has to go in search of a tasty meal, the less likely it is to find it, and, hopefully, the less likely it is to survive.

3.) Each plant has a different nutritional need. Soil exhaustion is when you plant a greedy heavy feeder in the same spot every year. Crops are rated as heavy feeders, moderate feeders or light feeders. All our crops will require a different range of nutrients.

We have to divide our crops into four groups: leaves (they thrive on nitrogen), fruits (phosphorous), roots (potassium) and cleaners/builders (legumes, as they add nitrogen to the soil.

Corn/potatoes are cleaners.

We must learn our plant families.

I know if your space is limited, rotation is a hard thing to figure out, so we have to do the best we can with the space that is available to us.

And by buying and choosing plants that resist or tolerate diseases this is a plus, too.
Know the plant families: chenopodiaceae, beets, chard, spinach; compositae, chicory, dandelions, endive, lettuces, marigolds, sunflowers; cruciferae, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radishes, turnips, collars, cress.

All are heavy root feeders.

Cucurbitacae, cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkin, watermelons, gourds. Plant legumes in this spot later.

Gramineae, wheat, oats, rye, corn. Cleaners. Plant tomatoes or any of the squash family next.

Leguminose, alfalfa, beans, peas, clovers, vetches, soybeans, peanuts, lupines, beneficial of a soil builder.

Liliaceae, onion, garlic, asparagus, leeks, shallots, chives.

Rotate next with legumes.

Rosaceae, bramble, berries, strawberries. Solanaceae, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, petunias, nicotiana. Heavy feeders with fungal enemies, cleaners. Start with grains, follow with legumes.

Unbelliferae, carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, coriander, parsnips, moderate feeders.

Nancy Wiersma of Dowagiac writes a weekly column.