Every few weeks I get a slightly panicked email or question relating to the complicated world of CROP ROTATION. After the long, anxious, confused, and inevitably deflated request for help, my answer is somewhat simple, a little disappointing at first glance, and bewildering as my response is usually something like this…WHY BOTHER YOURSELF, NATURE DOESN’T CROP ROTATE and after all we’re trying to replicate nature holistically. Let me explain what I mean and let me help you avoid the unnecessary brain torture that is CROP ROTATION.
Put simply, crop rotation is a man-made thing, nowhere in nature do you see groups of plants situated in large areas move in blocks then make their way back again years down the track. This was solely introduced for LARGE SCALE AGRICULTURE or MONOCULTURE, where vast areas have only one crop per growing year, season after season, then allowed a rest or FALLOW in preparation for another slog. Mostly, during the seasons the soil is not replenished, nor amended, but simply ploughed, turned over, and replanted. Taking out everything that was in the top layer taking thousands and thousands of years to create and turning it into dust, blowing away in the wind, removing the living soil top layer, and exposing it to the elements, causing a ripple effect, hence the long rests after harvesting. The reason they rotate is really for mitigation of pests and diseases caused by lack of soil stewardship and health. We as POLYCULTURALISTS don’t experience these same issues so much in small scale home gardening. Why?
Well, we have a distinct advantage in soil replenishment, nurturing, and health. Imagine if you will, your raised bed has space now open after a plant/crop has been harvested, your typical choices under MONOCULTURE is to remove, till and rest with either a GREEN MANURE CROP or leave it alone until the next planting regime starts. What we have as POLYCULURALISTS is a vastly more flexible advantage. What we can do is replace the top layer by adding composts and well-rotted manures either an inch or even 5 inches each time. Typically that would only be a few bags, wheelbarrows or a trailer or two worth to do 20% average soil reconditioning, so in an essence – not much really. That’s wicked cool, but economically not sustainable both monetarily and naturally in large scale agriculture. To cover a large scale farm with 2 inches of organic top layer compost/manure would be ridiculously unattainable and fiscally irresponsible for the farmer to keep costs down for themselves and the consumer. Hence the idea of traditional mono-crop rotation.
As we take out a plant, we are immediately replacing and amending the lost nutrients thus never devouring the soil of its vital living organisms which we rely so heavily on to create a well balanced, LIVING SOIL. No need to fallow beds after harvest, no more brain strain in trying to plan year after year, whilst remembering what the last 3-4 years had, exactly where, and what can/can’t be planted, what nutrient requirements are and were used by what plant, etc. Sounds to me like too much hard work. Call me a lazy gardener, but I would much rather enjoy my garden for all its holistic value than to painstakingly try and force nature to be tamed. She is a wild and beautiful force that we have arrogance towards in trying to make her bend to us, She will kick like a mule and bite like a crocodile at some stage in resistance, forcing us to take the break and allow her to restore her glory once again. Nature has a wicked cool plan of SUCCESSION and PROGRESSION. She never leaves a space open in the wild so why should we? She never rests but is constantly and harmoniously just plodding along with minimal effort and maximum reward. Perhaps after many many years, sometimes there is a change of habitat and flora due to environmental and seasonal changes/adaptations on a long term progression, but typically you will find the same plants coming up in succession year after year. Also notice that there is no digging/tilling or formal cropping – designated rows or forced gridding, but rather like my natty dreadlocks, free-forming with a little bit of finesse.
I will happily grow the same thing years after year, in the same area/bed with zero soil health issues, sure I get the odd pest and disease, but in nature, there needs to be an equilibrium of good and bad. Mother Nature always provides a solution for all the problems encountered, but, from time to time, we may need to give a helping hand whilst following the basic, yet delightfully complex laws of HER MAJESTY. What we take out we must replace and then some. So for every plant removed, I will add organics in the form of composts and Green Manures. Once the soil’s health is optimal, step back and enjoy your garden doing it’s own thang. Such an impressive force.
So with that being said, if we refrain from trying to work nature into what we want, and instead work with nature to help us and her prosper, the gains in both food production, spiritual growth, and Earthly growth all form to combine a beautiful, symbiotic relationship of holistic love and stewardship and thus our gardening experience goes from a possible chore to a salubrious adventure.
So in a nutshell, I don’t practice crop rotation as I replace what I remove, observe nature, and let her be, assist when needed and always give thanks for LIFE. This works well for me, try it and see if it works for you too. Less pain, more gain 😊
Blessed Love Ras Mark SUBURBAN FARMER