IANS – Crop Rotation


All of these came from potatoes that overwintered.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

You must rotate vegetable crops every year.
Like a lot of “thou shalts,” this one comes mostly from research on big farms. Big farms tend to be monocropped, which means the bugs and diseases that get a foothold can just trundle right down the rows, eating and infesting everything in their path. Your garden, on the other hand, is a patchwork of different plants. Take potatoes – the experts are adamant the one must rotate potatoes to prevent blight. Blight is a fungal airborne disease, however, so moving your potatoes 30 or even 100 feet away isn’t likely to protect them – blight spores can travel for miles. By the same token, an infestation of squash bugs or cucumber beetles isn’t going to go away just because you move the plants; better to skip growing them for a season or two and let the bugs die of starvation.
Because I grow open-pollinated plants, I always have volunteers, usually growing merrily in the same spot where I grew whatever-it-was the year before. I’ve let some of those grow just out of curiosity; can’t see that they were any more likely to die of disease or get eaten by insects. The German Butterball potatoes in particular will continue to pop up for several years in a row. That’s how I discovered that this potato variety will winter over. Planting these potatoes in the fall, when life is a lot less busy than during spring rush, is a great boon to the busy ranch wife. It also doesn’t matter if it’s a deluge year like last year (when we got twice our normal rainfall) because I’m not messing with sopping wet soil in early spring.
Now, there’s a caveat here – if you want to skip a rotation or three, you must be sure you’re adding the necessary nutrients back to the soil. I know of a few gardeners who grow carrots in the same bed year after year, just adding compost to supply the necessary replenishment nutrients. Onions actually do better if grown in the same soil year after year. Ruth Stout, who popularized the deep mulch method of gardening, said she found that after a few years, she could get away with growing the same thing in the same place for several years because her soil was so rich. If you do get an infestation of something, it’s probably a good idea to rotate with disease-free seeds or stock. But you don’t need to be paranoid about rotation as long as you feed your soil well and pay attention to the health of your plants.

Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum was the one who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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