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Improving Soil Quality with Crop Rotations

By Shannon McKee | Last updated: May 5, 2021
Key Takeaways

You don’t have to be a commercial farmer to benefit from crop rotation. Some simple planning for your home garden will keep the soil healthy and the environment happy for years to come.

Not every gardener thinks ahead to next year’s crops when dealing with where to plant this year’s crops. Some have this idea that crop rotation is only for big commercial farms.

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Others may think that they just don’t have enough space for rotating their crops. The truth is that every garden can benefit from crop rotation, especially when it comes to the positive effects that this rotation has on the fertility of your soil.

Soil Fertility and Crop Rotation

Scientists are still learning more about the soil and how people impact it through agriculture. Food science is a vital field that’s making new discoveries all the time. Often these studies are done in places where food harvesting may be less than optimal to help find ways for farmers to improve their sustainable farming methods.

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One such study was done in West Africa over a 14-year period that determined that crop rotation increased the yield and added more nitrogen to the soil. This evidence points to how everyone should be aware of how they use their natural resources.

Being Sustainable

Today, one of the most important considerations in how we use our ecosystem is sustainability. The way that the bulk of our crops have been produced for the past few decades involves large agricultural farms where the exact same crops are grown year after year.

This takes a huge toll on the soil as these crops are always needing the same nutrients, and the pests that attacked the soil are more than likely going to come back again and again.

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To battle these issues, farmers use large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to get the crops to grow. Over time, this system just isn’t sustainable because of the damage that occurs to the surrounding water and soil.

Crop rotation is just one practice in sustainable farming that offers better benefits for the world as a whole and your little piece of it. By planting a diverse group of crops and changing up where each is planted, you’ll be helping the soil to be more fertile for the following years in addition to providing some natural pest and disease control.

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Nitrogen and Crop Rotation

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients that exists in your soil. Crop rotations with nitrogen-fixing crops, such as legumes and some cover crops, can help put nitrogen back into your soil naturally.

This makes your soil healthy and can increase your yields. It can also help reduce your garden’s carbon footprint (the manufacturing of nitrogen fertilizer uses natural gas and increases your carbon footprint without even realizing it).

Simple Crop Rotation

Even the simplest crop rotation schedule can help to ensure that your garden is growing at a sustainable rate in which you shouldn’t have to add a large amount of fertilizer or use a lot of pesticides.

The simplest way to rotate your crops is to designate four quadrants. In each quadrant, you’ll want to plant each of these types of crops: leafy, fruit, root, and legume.

  • The leafy section should have your salad greens, broccoli, cabbage, and so on.
  • The fruit section should have your plants that produce fruit, such as tomatoes, corn, squash, eggplants, and peppers.
  • The root section should have your plants that have edible roots, such as carrots, turnips, radishes, onions, and garlic.
  • The legume section should have your beans, peas, and peanuts.

In the first year, you’ll want to put each group in their own garden section. For example, start with leafy greens in quadrant one, fruits in two, roots in three, and the legumes in four.

Then, in the following year, you’ll want to move each back a quadrant. That means the leafy greens would be in quadrant four, the fruits in one, the roots in two, and the legumes in three. Keep going through this schedule over the coming years until they get back to their original position. At that point, you can start over again.

Creating a crop rotation in your backyard garden is an excellent way to improve the quality of your soil without having to add a lot of fertilizer to get that precious nitrogen that your crops need.

Improve your soil’s fertility while working to deal with problem pests and diseases following a simple crop rotation plan to do your part for living sustainably.

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Written by Shannon McKee | Freelance Writer, Gardener

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Shannon McKee lives in Ohio and has been a freelance writer for several years now, including on her blog, whyiwah.blogspot.com. Nicknamed by loved ones a garden hoarder over the past few years, she grows a wide variety of plants in her urban garden.

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