As the fall season begins in Florida, the shortening days and cooler temperatures spur many vegetable gardeners into action. Fall is a great season to begin gardening, because the cooler temperatures and less intense rain set the perfect stage for many classic garden vegetables to grow. Whether you’ve been gardening for years, or this is your first growing season, there’s always more to learn and new plants to grow with the dawn of a new season.
Some classic vegetables grown during the winter include tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, and peas. In addition, it’s a great season for leafy greens such as kale and collards, or herbs such as basil or parsley. Even root crops like turnips, radishes, and potatoes can grow throughout the fall. Many of the crops we grow in the USA have deep histories that stem from the diverse cultural backgrounds within our country. Although each vegetable has its intricate history, most of them involve a similar cultivation technique: crop rotation.
Crop Rotation has existed for thousands of years and has become less of a common practice during the past century. Crop rotation is the practice of changing the family of crops you grow each season in a particular space. For example, if you grew squash in your garden bed during the fall, you would plant beans in it during the spring. In simpler terms, you would be rotating the crops you are growing in your garden.
What is the purpose of crop rotation?
When a crop is grown in the same place season after season, it is referred to as monocropping. The practice of monocropping has been shown to decrease soil nutrients and increase pest pressure. This occurs because planting the same crop each season will eventually drain the soil of the specific nutrient needs of that crop. Whatever nutrients or soil space unused by the specific crop will likely be utilized by invading weeds. Furthermore, the consistent planting of a crop allows pests and soil borne diseases to continue to feed and increase population with each passing season.
However, gardeners can avoid some of the issues associated with monocropping by practicing two different methods. First, gardeners can plant crops from different families sequentially with each passing season. This will slow the depletion of the soil nutrients and pest issues and, in some cases, add to the nutrients in the soil. The picture below states some of the families and rotation techniques for a garden.
The second method is more traditional: resting your soil. This can look different in each garden, but it accomplishes a similar purpose. Some gardeners will let their garden grow over with weeds for a season or a year. Weeds are scavengers of nutrients and will utilize what is available, then they can be chopped down and composted to recycle the nutrients back into the soil. Other gardeners will choose an inedible crop that benefits the soil during its resting time. A common cover crop is sunn hemp, which will fix nitrogen from the atmosphere in the soil and can be chopped down into the soil to release more nutrients. This practice helps build and amend the soil from the intensive work of growing vegetables in it year-round.
When planning your garden this season, consider any ways you can practice crop rotation to help improve your soil and plant health. This may look vastly different between gardeners, because no two gardens are set up the same way. If you want to maintain healthy amounts of nutrients in your soil while decreasing pathogens and pest pressures, then look for new ways to rotate the crops you are growing this season.