Environment

Crop Rotation Planner for Beginning Homesteaders

July 10, 2020
crop rotation planner

If you are new to homesteading, writing out a planting schedule may seem daunting. Isn’t it easier to just throw some seed in the ground and see what happens? While it would be nice, starting your garden without a plan is rarely successful. Sure, you might get a nice crop of lettuce and peas in the spring, but what about those watermelons and swiss chard you wanted to harvest later in August? 

If you are a beginning homesteader, you need to look into crop rotation. Making a crop rotation planner helps you figure out what to grow, where to grow it and how much to plant. Regardless of your growing experience, crop rotation plans your growing season more effectively, reduces pest and disease pressure and can increase yields.

Keep in mind that creating your crop rotation planner is a guide, and it’s susceptible to changing conditions. Growing plants requires working with an unpredictable system and a limited number of controls. The most successful growers tend to change up their rotation plans every couple of years, gathering feedback from prior growing seasons to guide their next step.

Start With Numbers

To start, figure out how many square feet of growing space you have to work with and what crops you are interested in cultivating. Before you begin seeding vegetable trays or picking up 20 containers of basil, you need to know where to put them. Using a crop rotation planner can help you map out where crops will go and how long they will be there. 

For example, lettuce may only be in the ground for a few weeks before you need to harvest it. Pumpkins, on the other hand, take a long time. Creating a plan and using the correct infrastructure can transform your homesteading journey. Additionally, regardless of whether you’re growing for your family or the market, you’ll want to consider the yield per square foot of different veggies. 

For example, greens tend to deliver a higher quantity of produce in a smaller area, but may not last for many months. Crops like winter squash and melons, on the other hand, take up more space and time but yield more nutrient-dense plants. 

With so many contributing factors, you will want to look into a few possible rotations. Create a farm map, compare possible solutions. When creating your crop rotation planner, take the data you gathered and turn it into something tangible. Consider cultivation practices, the timing of planting, nutrient demand and pest complex. Be open to change, since many growers find their plans tend to serve as guidelines rather than concrete strategies.

Know the Cycle

Your crop rotation planner is an essential tool in your production and management practices. Extending your knowledge of field conditions will aid you in marketability, enabling you to compare the benefits of less labor and equipment with more profit.

Most homesteaders rely on the grouping cycle, which organizes vegetables by category of root, leaf, fruit and legume, allowing you to choose some flexibility over specific crops. For example, you could rotate between carrots, spinach, tomatoes and green beans, or beets, cabbage, summer squash and lentils. 

In addition to rotating crops by type, you may also want to consider companion planting. For instance, most gardeners will tell you never to plant tomatoes in a bed where potatoes grew, as they share common diseases and pests. Companion planting demonstrates some plants work better together, such as beans and squash. 

Prep Your Beds

Knowing your soil is one of the most important aspects of successful crop rotation. Without knowing the quality of the dirt you are working with, you could waste time and money on special formulas and fertilizers to improve soil health. A major step in your crop rotation planning is prepping your beds. Without doing this, you leave most of the growing season up to chance.

Bed prep varies depending on the growing method. For example, are you interested in no-till or raised beds? Will you be growing on a large scale that requires a tractor, or can you care for things by hand? Getting a soil test will help you know how to prepare, which tools to use and whether fertilizer is needed. 

A major benefit of crop rotation is improved soil health. When creating your plan, make a list of field characteristics to help you decide what method might be best in your situation. Some common field characteristics include drainage, slope, shade, organic matter and perennial weeds.

Depending on your growing methods, your bed prep routine may vary. No-till growing has many benefits, including reducing soil erosion, decreasing labor costs and conserving water. However, it might require more compost upfront and investment in cover crops, which requires significant planning. Raised beds are great if you are growing in a concentrated area with poor soil and drainage. Regardless, for your crop rotations to be successful, you need to prep your beds effectively.

Write Everything Down

While creating a crop rotation planner might seem daunting, the outcome is absolutely worth it. Regardless of your growing experience, knowing how to rotate crops efficiently can help you grow more food, spend less money and time on your plants and collect measurable data for the next season. Record details of when you planted things, how much you planted, how they performed and when you harvested them. This information is invaluable for improving for the future!

Remember, there are tons of ways to achieve the same goals. Check out some other homesteading blogs to see what tips and tricks other food growers may have and what techniques they’ve tried.

Effectively Implementing Crop Rotation

Successful crop rotation is all about gathering data, creating options for yourself and prepping your soil for success. If you are a beginning homesteader looking to develop a crop rotation planner, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Use these simple tips to start and see how much they help you. 

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