When we grow new things, we learn more about different types of plants and how to care for them, making us better gardeners in the end.
What is a Monoculture?
Monocultures are farming systems whereuse the same land to grow the same crop year after year. The monocropped system typically involves the continuous cropping of corn. The systems mentioned are complex and occur on a large scale.
These use frequent tillage, before planting and after harvesting. Tillage is especially harmful to the soil as a entirety. Yearly tillage prevents stable organic matter from accumulating. Tillage is damaging because it can reduce water infiltration and soil erosion. Tillage can leave the soil bare, which can lead to runoff. This happens several times a year, depending on the farmer.
Then they plant in the spring. Many farmers in the Grain Belt till at the end of the season, fertilize, and then plant in the spring. Farmers will buy and apply fertilizers in the off-season because prices are lower then. By the time farmers plant the cash crop in the spring, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus have already leached out of the soil. If the roots of a plant cannot access water at a certain time, the plants in the row will also be unable to access it. More fertilizer will be applied to make up for unavailable nutrients.
The agricultural system that relies on cultivating crops in rows is still productive, but it causes long-term damage to the soil and surrounding ecosystem. The study found that continuous cropping of peanuts decreases the number of arthropods found in the soil. A study published in PeerJ outlines a study that found that continuous cropping of peanuts decreases the number of arthropods found in the soil. The researchers found that the diversity of bacteria in the surrounding soil was reduced, as were the number of beneficial bacteria. Other crops that are similar to peanuts in terms of their effect on soil microbe communities and soil structure overall include maize, sorghum, soybean, cotton, and tobacco.
Monocropping is the cultivation of a single crop over a wide area and for an extended period, usually without rotation. The most common examples are corn or soybean. These two crops, maize and soybeans, represent the largest crops in the United States. Monocropping is a type of farming where only one crop is grown in a field. This method requires more use of things like fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to reduce the amount of diseases in plants.
What is Crop Rotation?
Crop rotation is the opposite of a monoculture. The sequence of crops is planned over the course of a year or more. Crop rotation is different from polyculture and intercropping. This is called intercropping and it is beneficial for the garden. The more diverse a crop rotation is, the more likely it is to be successful. Rotations can last for several years. Typically, these systems strive to maintain soil health by keeping plants alive and growing in the ground.
Cover crops are traditionally terminated using herbicides, leaving herbicide residue on the surface. It can be difficult to avoid tillage entirely on a large scale when dealing with organic materials. The limited number of chemicals available make it difficult to control weeds at the times when crops are being planted and harvested. Crops should be rotated even if tillage has to occur. Crop rotations offer a number of benefits, including improve soil health, reduced pest and pathogen pressure, and increased productivity.
There are thousands of vegetable plant varieties that fall into one of eleven families. The most common fall into:
- Legumes – think peas, beans
- Nightshades – think tomatoes, eggplant, peppers
- Chicories – think lettuce, endive
- Umbels – think carrots, parsnips, fennel
- Chenopods – beets, swiss chard, spinach
- Brassicas – think cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
- Allium – think onions, garlic, leeks
Each family of plants uses different methods to feed the soil. The nightshade family, for example, includes many plants that require a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus to produce their fruits, like tomatoes. Root crops such as parsnips require a lot of calcium and potassium.
Why does that information matter? When you plant tomatoes in the same location year after year, the soil in that area becomes depleted of nitrogen and phosphorus. If you plant your tomatoes and parsnips in different places from one year to the next, you will help to keep the level of nutrients in the soil balanced. The soil will also have a chance to recover from being used heavily for one type of plant.
Including nitrogen-fixing in other plant activities can help add nutrients back into the soil for future crops in a sustainable way that doesn’t require synthetic fertilizer. The legume family is nitrogen-fixers. They fertilize the soil by producing nitrogen and returning it to the ground through their roots.
Tomatoes and parsnips have different nutrient requirements, so swapping their locations will help to keep the soil nutrient levels balanced. By growing a legume crop in between the two, you can add even more nutrients into the soil which will be beneficial for the next tomato crop.
Different crops can be grown in different areas from each other, or in the same area at different times. Even if you only have a small space, you can still improve the balance of nutrients and the return of plants by rotating their location.
Crop rotation can be used in a garden of any size. Every garden, regardless of size, has its own set of issues and challenges, but the basic rules are the same:
- Rotate plant families
- Provide as much space as you can when rotating – i.e. the further you can plant tomatoes from their previous location, the better
- Allow as many seasons as is feasible to pass before you return a plant family to a previous location.
If you don’t have enough room to move plant families around, that’s okay. Do you only like growing plants that are from the same family? One way to improve your garden is to grow your plants in containers for a season. This will create extra space and give your garden soil a break.
There is no need to worry if that option is not available to you. crop rotation is not necessary, it is just another tool that you can use in your garden. You can choose to use it or not.
Another Way to Look at Crop Rotation
If you plant spring crops, summer crops, and fall crops, you may already be following the principle of crop rotation. Succession planting is when you plant different crops in the same space at different times throughout the year. Crop rotation is when you plant different crops in different areas of your garden each year.
Many crops will only remain in your garden space for a short time, unlike tomatoes which will remain in place for months. If you plant another vegetable after each of these short crops is spent, you are planting in succession. If you plant a different vegetable family in that space, you are rotating.
It is recommended by Farm Director Jack Algiere that you take a picture of your garden during different seasons of the year and then try to create a different picture the following seasons.
When you are finished with your lettuce, dig up the roots and plant carrots in that spot. Have you pulled all your beet crops? Use that empty space in your garden to grow some peas or beans. As your legume crop gets weaker, you’ll be able to plant a fall crop from the brassica family in its place – like kale or broccoli.
The idea is that if you plant different types of vegetables from the different families, you can grow more food while also taking care of your soil. There are many reasons to be excited about the garden season after season.
Cover crops are a critical part of any rotation. The purpose of these crops is to protect the ground and make it healthier. Although they are typically planted during the non-growing season, cover crops can also be planted in fields that are not currently being used. This section will covers the different types of mixers and the importance of using them.
Many different types of crops can be classified as grains. Although they come from different places and have different names, they all share something in common: relationships with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria in the soil. The process of nitrogen fixation converts atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available compounds. This is done by bacteria and humans during the Haber-Bosch process to turn nitrogen gas into a form that can be used by plants as a fertilizer. The crops in the picture have nodules on their roots. Soil bacteria enters the roots of the plant, which then form nodules. The compound leghemoglobin, which is similar to human hemoglobin, gives active nodules a reddish appearance. There are many types of legume crops, some of which include clover, beans, peas, alfalfa, and vetch. Some tend to have more nodules than others.
If you fertilize legumes, they will not form nodules. The Rhizobia bacteria live in symbiosis with the leguminous plants, where they provide the plants with nitrogen in exchange for sugars. The plants will not accept the bacteria unless they have a need for nitrogen, which is provided by fertilizer. So, avoid nitrogen fertilizers while these legumes are planted.
If you want to practice crop rotation, one method is to plant nitrogen-hungry crops like corn after legumes have had a chance to replenish the nitrogen in the soil. When the legume is finished growing, the crop can access the nitrogen it provided. It is critical to plant a crop following the legume because nitrogen can easily leach down the soil profile, making the nitrogen unavailable to the crop.
The Brassicas are a group of plants that contains radishes, turnips, mustard, rapeseed, and other plants in the cabbage family. Two types of brassicas often used as cover crops are radishes and rapeseed. The taproots of these crops are large and can help to improve compacted soils by scavenging excess nutrients. The plants also have a lot of above-ground biomass, which helps to prevent erosion by covering the ground. Daikon radishes are good at foraging. These vegetables have large roots and are much bigger than other root crops you see in the garden.
This taproot helps these [plants] break up compacted soils and scavenge nutrients deep in the profile. These nutrients become available to crops as the plant decomposes. Rapeseed has strong root systems that are capable of breaking up compacted soil, allowing for better aeration and drainage. The crops are not causing soil disturbance and therefore not having negative effects of tillage.
There are a variety of small grains that can be used as cover crops, such as oats, rye, sudangrass, sunn hemp, and wheat. This type of crop has fibrous roots and often produces a lot of plant material. They are especially good at sequestering carbon in the soil and providing better erosion control. The sturdy fibrous roots keep the soil together well, and the high amount of plant matter provides protection from the elements. The next crop can act as a mulch to prevent weeds and protect the soil once it is planted.
Cereals that can withstand cold weather and can be planted in late summer include rye, wheat, and triticale. They will grow a bit during the summer and fall and stay alive during the winter so they can continue to grow in the spring. Oats are less hardy and will die in cold weather. This allows the crop to naturally die in the fall. Warm-weather crops like Sudangrass and sunn hemp can be used as cover crops in the spring, after other crops have been harvested. Climate largely determines where people can live. Some places have a much warmer climate than others, making them more inhabitable. When planning your crops, you will need to take into account the climate of your location. This will help you determine when to plant and what types of crops will grow best in your area.
Importance of Mixing Cover Crops
Cover crops are beneficial, with each type having a specific purpose. Each of these methods has drawbacks, so using a combination of them will give you the best results. While legumes do add more nitrogen to the soil, they are low-residue crops. The more crop residue there is, the less weed pressure and soil erosion there will be. Compacting soil and bringing nutrients to the surface are two ways in which brassicas can help. The roots of grasses help to hold soil in place, preventing erosion. In addition, grasses add carbon to the soil as they grow. Carbon levels that are too high will result in a decrease of nitrogen. By growing a mixture of these crops together, farmers can take advantage of the benefits each one offers while minimizing the negative aspects of each. Gardeners can often find cover crops already mixed and ready to use, which makes it easy to add them to a home garden.
Reducing the Risk of Pests & Diseases
The pests and diseases that attack plants usually have a preferred type of plant, or a small group of plants, that they prefer to eat or infect. If you want to reduce the risk of disease in your garden, a good method is to rotate the position of each type of plant.
If you move the location of certain food items, it can confuse the pests that like those types of food.
If your plant gets a disease, the pathogens can stay in the surrounding soil even after the diseased plant is gone. The good news is that some plant diseases can be controlled by soil conditions and eventually die over time. You can avoid infecting a new plant with pathogens specific to that plant by planting it in a different location.
If you change the location of the plant variety that the soil-dwelling pests prefer, they will be less of a problem for your edible plants.
Jack prefers to wait four years before planting a variety in a previously-used spot. If you take this step, it is not certain that your plant will not get a disease, but it is a good way to stop diseases from happening.
The disease-resistant varieties available to gardeners today are a great advantage. When choosing a plant, it is just as important to select one that is naturally resistant as choosing one that produces a delicious crop. New resistant varieties become available every year.
Although you may have your favorite types of plants, it is still a good idea to try out new ones every season. You might find a type of plant that has all the benefits of your current favorite, as well as being resistant to disease, which would make gardening easier.