Garden Too Small for Crop Rotation? No Worries

potatoMost gardeners would agree that crops should be rotated, but the reality is that this is not always necessary. If you have a small garden, it may even prove impossible.

Think about it. If you are growing any perennial fruit, vegetables or herbs, you already have crops that aren’t getting rotated. Why sweat the others? Crop rotation is really more for farmers and those that produce a lot. Here’s why:

1. Disease.
Late blight is most often the reason gardeners rotate tomatoes and potatoes. First off, if you didn’t have blight, there is no reason to rotate. Secondly, since blight is airborne and can travel many miles, moving your tomatoes a few feet won’t prevent it. If you don’t want to or can’t rotate, be sure to mulch your crops well, and water at ground level. Consider using a blight-resistant variety, or skipping susceptible plants for a season or two.

Remember, if you have good, strong plants they will be better able to fight off any disease, just like you and I can. Many a gardener has grown tomatoes in the same spot for years; you just don’t hear about that.

2. Pests.
If you have had an infestation of nasty little buggers like squash bugs or cucumber beetles, you should get those crops and their relatives as far away from the area as possible. If you don’t have enough room to do that, you may want to skip growing them a season or so, until you have wiped the pests out. Planting resistant varieties, such as butternut squash, can help deter the bugs. Intercropping other veggies in that area will help keep the bugs away. Try growing marigolds if you had a problem with cucumber beetles; this can aid in eradicating them faster. If you have not had a problem, don’t worry about it.

3. Nutrients.
When you plant the same family of crops in the same spot year after year, eventually the food they want will be gone; unless, of course, if you put it back. Replenishing your soil is an essential part of growing beautiful, tasty veggies. Long before I “knew better” I had grown gorgeous carrots in the same bed for a number of seasons. They were mulched well to take them far into the winter months, and good compost and old manure were added each spring. They were happy; I was happy. Then I was told I should rotate my crops. Every planting since then has been a crap shoot. Each time I move them is like starting over, and last year was the last time.

In summary, what can a gardener do instead of crop rotation?

Keep your garden clean: clear away any spent foliage throughout the season and especially at the end of the season. Failure to do so can create areas for bugs to live.

Replenish your soil and keep it healthy. Remember, it’s your food’s food.

Try to water at ground level. I know, nature doesn’t water that way. Nature also doesn’t care if your tomatoes die and fall to the ground—after all, that’s how they reproduce.

Gardening Jones is a master gardener in Pennsylvania. Learn more at gardeningjones.com/blog.
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Make the most of your space with How to Grow More Vegetables or Small Plot, High Yield Gardening.

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