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Can I Let Potatoes Grow in the Same Spot Year after Year?  RSS feed

 
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My husband and I are planning to do a sort of "no-dig" potato planting. We dug a small swale/ditch when we moved in (15 feet long, one foot deep and one foot wide), only to find out that the area did not need, nor utilize the swale. So, we figured we'd throw down some fern fronds and leaves, put potatoes on top of that layer, and then add a few feet more of leaves/mulch. What I'm wondering is, can we let potatoes permanently grow in that spot? I often read about the need to rotate potatoes, but I'd much prefer to have a permanent agriculture of potatoes growing there. So much easier! Are there ways to reduce the risks of diseases and lack of productivity that could arise from letting them volunteer and grow in the same place year after year?

Thank you so much!
 
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No, thats very unlikely to work. Traditionally potatoes are on a 3-4 year rotation, to avoid diseases.

sorry Ludger
 
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Disease is something that is usually brought to the site. If you avoid bringing store bought potato waste in compost, it won't spontaneously develop. Nutrient depletion is a risk and can be avoided through regular addition of mulch. I had potatoes growing on the edge of a compost pile for several years. Every spring, the ones that were missed at harvest time, became next year's seed.

In the wild, plants often occupy the same spot for a long time. They rot down in that spot and nutrients are cycled. We take nutrients away at harvest. If plenty of organic waste is returned, the soil is not depleted. Crop rotation has its merits, but it has been practiced during long periods of soil depletion and erosion. Therefore, I think this cornerstone of land stewardship is over rated. It's a response to problems caused by over tillage and mono cropping, in the absence of adequate replenishment of lost nutrients.
 
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If late blight is a problem in your area, I'd be careful: late blight apocalypse
While it takes a lot for it to jump from tomatoes to potatoes,
I was really lucky it hadn't made its way down to the tubers.

I still have 'perennial' potatoes, although it's as much because I've always missed some as anything purposeful
If you try, I suggest finding ancient, unimproved variety(s)-modern cultivars generally get/have viruses that slowly but surely reduce productivity.
Get good at spotting a 'glassy' potato before you bite into one-
they've sprouted and the starches have converted to sugars, they stay hard and inedible when cooked.
If you have generations of potatoes together, you will become familiar!
 
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The other big one is scab but if the soil is acid enough it won't happen. For that reason, you should never lime your potato soil.
 
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I've seen people growing potatoes every year in the same place.........and they tend to use a lot of chemicals like copper sulphate, which is still technically organic, until someone can find an alternative to this cumulative heavy metal, worm killer......for the benefit of people who want to grow potatoes without rotating them much.

An organic seed potato grower told me that he used an 8 year rotation, because volunteers could often spring up 2 or even 3 years later, and presumably the diseases stick around longer.

"If you try, I suggest finding ancient, unimproved variety(s)-modern cultivars generally get/have viruses that slowly but surely reduce productivity. "



Sadly, no. That works for most plants but not potatoes, because potatoes are clones. One gets sick so pretty soon they all do. Most old varieties you are likely to encounter are old clones which people stopped growing because they lost all resistance to disease, and you have little to gain from cloning these old clones. Unless you go to the Andes. Incidentally I'm baffled why so many people think cloning animals is a good idea.

Disease is something that is usually brought to the site. If you avoid bringing store bought potato waste in compost, it won't spontaneously develop.



In the wild, plants often occupy the same spot for a long time. They rot down in that spot and nutrients are cycled. We take nutrients away at harvest. If plenty of organic waste is returned, the soil is not depleted. Crop rotation has its merits, but it has been practiced during long periods of soil depletion and erosion. Therefore, I think this cornerstone of land stewardship is over rated. It's a response to problems caused by over tillage and mono cropping, in the absence of adequate replenishment of lost nutrients.



I burn all potato waste and don't bring any more in. Blight still develops. I think it blows in on the wind. I don't know how long the potatoes had been growing in that hedge. I suspect a year or two at least.

Arable crop rotation, by itself, does very little to improve soil. The only arable crops which are known to put back anything at all are green beans and peas (harvested when fully ripe, legumes generally leave soil with as much nitrogen as there was before they were planted, no more, no less). When a 19th century farmer said that turnips improved soil it was shorthand for saying that they received lots of manure, much of which helped the next crop, they allowed him to feed more animals over winter, which meant more manure, and they were grown in rows which helped with weed control. Holistic thinking. Soils were actually building in this era as far as anyone can tell. The idea that certain arable crops "make" phosphate or magnesium for subsequent crops to use is an urban myth. A few deep rooted annuals such as oil radish are believed to bring up nutrients from deep underground, but deep rooted perennials (such as a hedge at the edge of the field) probably do that far better. Crop rotation may prevent soil becoming unbalanced (evidence for this is hard to come by, I've searched). The strongest argument for rotation is that it prevents pests and disease.

IMO IF you are growing annual plants some kind of rotation is usually good. In the wild, plants do grow in the same spot, but they also spread, die back in areas and cross pollinate over quite large areas and most importantly, they reproduce sexually at least some of the time and thus evolve. I hope one day all our permaculture garden plants can behave like that, but in reality many of us are growing small populations of not very diverse plants in isolated locations. A bed of reeds will be reproducing asexually a lot of the time, but it still produces seeds. No one has DNA tested them every year for a few centuries, but it could be interesting to see exactly what is going on with them. English Elm trees reproduced entirely asexually until Dutch Elm disease virtually wiped them out (what does that tell us?)

IMO the only long term solution to the problem of blight is breeding potatoes which spontaneously produce true seed, so every potato grower becomes a breeder.
For years "potato roguers" have been paid to remove any potatoes which set true seed
 
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I have a story about a potato monocrop that was maintained in one place for many years.

My grandparents liked to eat potatoes. When I was young they would grow about half an acre of potatoes every year in the garden, the harvest in the fall would be enough to fill the box of a half ton truck, they had a good cold room to keep them in and would eat potatoes for at least one meal per day, and have enough left to plant the next years crop.
As a kid when we would go visit them in the summer one of the chores we had to do was to pick the potato bugs off the plants. (these ones https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_potato_beetle ). Every plant would have several red larvae of various ages, an average of one patch of eggs, and occasionally an adult. We would squish the eggs and pick off and kill larvae and adults all by hand and usually without gloves. It was a gross horrible chore, even for me who loved to pick up and play with bugs, these were just gross.

I was always found their potatoes to be very sad looking because, my mother also grew potatoes in her garden and they were always 3-4 times the size and the leaves were a darker green, and each plant produced a lot more potatoes.

This happened because my grandparents grew potatoes in over half their vegetable garden space, so there was always places were potatoes were grown in the same spot two years in a row. My grandfather has passed and my grandmother has moved into town. My mother moved there a few years ago, there are no more potato bugs. How was this done? for one year no potatoes were grown, just a variety of other vegetables. The next year; a couple rows of potatoes were planted and carefully monitored for bugs. The year after that potatoes were planted in a different section of the garden and monitored carefully, no bugs were found.

Controlling and eliminating pests is not difficult if annuals are planted in different places every year, this seems to be something permies have a pretty good handle on anyway. I probably didn't need to share this story here.


 
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As a plant breeder, I am generally welcoming to diseases and pests in my garden. Because if I have a lot of pathogens/diseases/pests then it is easier to select for varieties that thrive in my garden in spite of the farmer, the soil, the viruses, the animals, the bugs, the microorganisms, the climate, etc...

I am not convinced that crop rotation in small gardens is worthwhile, because micro-organisms are readily moved around a garden by walking, or tools, or wind, or animals. And insects can move from place to place. Many of the diseases and pests we fuss over travel continental distances in a single growing season. Many insect species are killed by my cold winters, but most years, they re-arrive during summer monsoonal weather. Even on large farms crop rotation may not be all that effective. Farmer's used to think that if they rotated between corn and soybeans that they could eliminate corn root worms. Turns out that the species has learned to fly away from the corn, and leave propagules in soybean fields... So they will be ready to start eating corn as soon as the soybeans are out of the field and the corn is planted. These days, crop rotation is favoring the worms.

I grow potatoes from pollinated seeds. About 5 growing seasons ago I initiated a standard operating procedure of discarding all potato clones that do not make lots of seeds. I love how much improvement my potatoes underwent by such a simple choice.

I don't molest the skunks, coons, pheasants, turkeys, or deer that eat my corn crop. What that means in practice is that over the years, my corn has developed resistance to animal predation.

If a potato plant in my garden attracts Colorado Potato Beetles, then the plant gets culled. If a tomato plant attracts them, then the tomato gets culled. The beetles are allowed to eat as much wild solanum as they like. I don't pay too much attention to weeding the wild solanum. It's a death sentence for a beetle to get caught on a domesticated plant. Death to the beetle, and death to the plant. I can enforce that contract, because the beetles are year round residents in my garden. I influence the genetics and culture of the beetles and the genetics of the domesticated plants.

I don't use crop protection chemicals, because I want the full strengths and especially the weaknesses of my varieties to be manifest. That allows me to make more informed decisions about which plants to use as seed-crops.

For me, it's cull, Cull, CULL!

 
Leora Laforge
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I really like genetics and will start breeding whatever I can get my hands on once I have the space. I have never had the opportunity to see potatoes grown from seed, how quickly do they send up shoots compared to cloned potatoes? I will look into trying that in the next few years. Potatoes are biennials right? So seeds would come in the second year of growth?

There is actually two gardens in the farm yard, with different growing conditions too. With the two gardens pests can have trouble moving far enough to find them. Maybe with a small garden it would not be worthwhile to rotate crops but with two large gardens it can help. I suspect the farm is at the far northern edge of the potato beetle range so one summer without their preferred food got rid of most of them.

Where I am from some farmers like to experiment with crops so a rotation might be wheat-canola-barley-peas-flax-wheat-lentils. This tends to be enough to pests of one plant out of the soil. There are also farmers that will do wheat-canola-wheat-canola, and diseases do build up there.

I would love to be able to breed plants that deer do not like but humans still like. All the deer in the area winter in a valley that is right beside the farm yard, and there is a doe that raises her fawn right in the yard every year. The cats keep the little herbivores under control in the yard.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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The potatoes that I grow produce both seeds and tubers in the first growing season. Potato seeds are very small, so they are slow to get going in the spring. Tubers are huge and start up fast. With my very short growing season that means that harvest is typically larger for tuber planted clones than for seedlings. I say typically, because sometimes seedlings produce many more tubers for me than different clones planted from tubers. Some plants grown from tubers don't produce a harvest for me and die out.

Here's what the yield looked like for some potatoes grown from seeds. Each basket it the production from one plant.


Here's what the harvest looked like from single tubers in the second year: Tuber from the top row 3rd from left in the above photo.


Second row from top, All the way left.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
The potatoes that I grow produce both seeds and tubers in the first growing season. Potato seeds are very small, so they are slow to get going in the spring. Tubers are huge and start up fast. With my very short growing season that means that harvest is typically larger for tuber planted clones than for seedlings. I say typically, because sometimes seedlings produce many more tubers for me than different clones planted from tubers. Some plants grown from tubers don't produce a harvest for me and die out.

Here's what the yield looked like for some potatoes grown from seeds. Each basket it the production from one plant.



Here's what the harvest looked like from single tubers in the second year: Tuber from the top row 3rd from left in the above photo.


Second row from top, All the way left.



I just gotta say, those are some beautiful looking potatoes! The little green ones and the pink ones come from the same plant, right? Is there a reason for the difference in size and color? Do they taste different, too?

Thank you, also, for sharing your knowledge on potato growing. This is fascinating!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I just gotta say, those are some beautiful looking potatoes! The little green ones and the pink ones come from the same plant, right? Is there a reason for the difference in size and color? Do they taste different, too?

Thank you, also, for sharing your knowledge on potato growing. This is fascinating!



Thank you... Yes, everything in the same basket is from the same plant. The larger white/yellow/pink/red/purple things are the potato tubers. Taste varies from kind to kind, but around typical potato root taste. The little round green things are potato fruits. I typically call them berries. They have seeds inside. When fully ripe, they taste sweet, but about 1/4 fruit is enough to make me throw up.

Here's what true potato seeds look like:


And some young potato seedlings:


Here's what the potato berries looked like while still on the plant:


And a closeup of one of the baskets:


More berries and tubers:


This was one of my favorites: However it produced fewer tubers each year than
went into the ground, so it died out:

 
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Joseph the first year I grew spuds I planted certified tubers and got hundreds of "berries" and never worried about trying to grow from true potato seed so I would be very interested how you go about it as this year I've noticed berries on my spuds again.
Thanks...Glenn.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I pick potato berries when they fall off the plant naturally, or just before the beginning of the fall frosts. Then I allow them to ripen further until a few of them start to rot, or they get soft (a month or two). Then I combine one cup of berries with 6 cups of water in a blender, and blend for 30 seconds. The seeds sink, the pulp floats. I pour off the pulp and rinse the seeds a few times with water, then dry them on a plate.

I grow potato seeds about like tomatoes. Potato seeds respond well to the wintersown method.
 
Glenn Darman
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Oh joseph if I had only known it was that simple....Thank you very much,we love spuds and eat 'em just on every night and not having to buy in tubers would be a Godsend to our sustainable tracks.
 
Peter Ingot
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

I grow potato seeds about like tomatoes. Potato seeds respond well to the wintersown method.



Which varieties did you start with?
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I pick potato berries when they fall off the plant naturally, or just before the beginning of the fall frosts. Then I allow them to ripen further until a few of them start to rot, or they get soft (a month or two). Then I combine one cup of berries with 6 cups of water in a blender, and blend for 30 seconds. The seeds sink, the pulp floats. I pour off the pulp and rinse the seeds a few times with water, then dry them on a plate.

I grow potato seeds about like tomatoes. Potato seeds respond well to the wintersown method.



You have eaten the berries, which common lore deem to be deadly poison. Did the poison or the taste cause your vomitus reaction?
Are you concerned that you might breed a poisonous spud?
I imagine not, as your source matirial is all edible.

One other thing, could they be selected for self seeding, like ground cherries and the like?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Peter Ingot wrote:Which varieties did you start with?



I don't keep track of things like that. The fewer records I keep, the more food I am able to grow.

I have grown several hundreds of varieties of potatoes... Because they are grown from pollinated seeds, and because potatoes don't generally self-pollinate, every seed ends up being genetically unique. And I am growing tetraploid potatoes, which really messes with the ability to name a variety that is grown from seeds. From time to time, I have named one particular clone, but I generally just end up calling potatoes "white fleshed potato with purple skin", or "yellow fleshed potato", etc.

When doing swaps with people, I ask that they not bother labeling the seeds that they send. If someone collected seeds from 40 clones, I ask that the seeds all be jumbled together into the same packet of seeds. In a month of two I expect to plant about 300 varieties of potatoes, which have all been consolidated into a single packet of seeds. That was good enough for the illiterate plant breeders that domesticated potatoes. It's good enough for me.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My primary selection criteria for potatoes is the ability to make seeds. I don't find volunteer seedlings in my garden because of my cultural practices, but I get reports of people growing self-seeding potatoes.

The potato berry tasted good going down, because the berry was fully ripe and had a lot of sugar in it, but it didn't want to stay down. Green berries are too bitter to contemplate eating.

Potato poison is well behaved... It tastes very bitter in a tuber. So it's easy enough to taste if a tuber is poisonous. Offspring tend to resemble their parents. And potatoes have been domesticated for a long time, so the poisons have mostly been minimized. However, I toss out about 5% of new clones each year because they taste poisonous. Tasting for poison is among the last things that I do with a new clone. No sense tasting tubers that can be eliminated by less unpleasant tests. I would classify potato poison as mildly poisonous. And the poison is destroyed by cooking. That goes a long ways to explaining why raw potatoes are not typically used as a salad vegetable.
 
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I missed a few potatoes last summer, so I got a fall crop without replanting. The fall potatoes produced more per plant.

A couple years ago, I missed a couple fall potatoes and they were my best summer potatoes. Nature is apparently better at raising potatoes than I am.
 
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Joseph, thanks so much! I do have potato seeds and thought there never got to maturity because of the hard and green fruit I find!
Now I am going to keep them and sow them!
Let's see if I can convince people about the interest of doing so...

I am curious about your way to plant them.... I just made an answer to this old thread about the best way to grow potatoes, and it had few answers and no longer term feed-back....
https://permies.com/t/48075/growing-potatoes#764466

Maybe can you add something there also about the way to plant seedlings or of you sow directly etcetc?
 
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There are two different problems involved in growing potatoes year on year: what happens to the soil and what happens to the potatoes.

Soil:

You have the obvious problem of nutrient depletion, but this can be solved by fertilization and some soils will have more reserve and take longer to deplete than others.  The worse problem is that bacterial and fungal diseases and invertebrate pests will accumulate where potatoes are grown repeatedly.  Most of the fungal diseases will not overwinter successfully without a host, but some will.  Bacterial diseases like scab get worse and worse as their populations build in the soil and it takes a break of several years to reduce the population.

Potatoes:

It is the potato tubers that are the major reserve of disease.  It is hard to get them all when you harvest, so you usually end up with some volunteers.  These volunteers keep bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases alive through the winter to infect the next crop.  If you can get all of the volunteers before you plant a new crop, that significantly reduces the problems of growing in the same ground, but this is a lot of work and requires major soil disruption.

The biggest long term problem is replanting the same tubers.  They will accumulate several very common potato viruses which are aphid transmitted and the problem will get worse and worse.  Once you have viruses in the population, they will quickly infect even new, clean potatoes that you bring in.  You can live with viruses, but they depress yields, often significantly once you accumulate more than one type.  The best way to avoid this is to fully harvest your potatoes, eat them all, and plant certified seed each year.  Even certified seed is not really virus free, but the prevalence is low enough that the viruses don't become a problem in that year.

If you don't want to be involved in that system of high tech middle-men, then you need to be very attentive to roguing out plants that show any sign of disease and selecting varieties that perform best in your area over multiple years.  If you are really serious about growing potatoes, even better would be to breed potatoes for your conditions, growing from seed and keeping the ones that show the best disease resistance.  Until about 100 years ago, before the advent of virus testing and micropropagation, this is how cultivars were maintained.  New varieties were grown from seed and abandoned when they "ran out" due to accumulation of diseases.

It is amusing to read accounts of potato introductions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  They go something like:

First year: New potato "Farmer John's Wonder" grown from seed ball.
Third year: Farmer John's Wonder now available in quantity!
Fourth year: Farmer John's Wonder - best potato yield we've ever seen.
Seventh year: Farmer John's Wonder just doesn't perform like it used to.  Yields are poor.
Eighth year: "Farmer Bob's Mortgage Lifter" grown from seed ball.
Eleventh year: "Farmer Bob's Mortgage Lifter" - best potato yield we've ever seen.

Etc.

Most potatoes run out pretty fast, especially if you are growing them where you already have active virus infection.  Still, you can often get a solid 3-4 years from seed grown varieties before you retire them.
 
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The man who does Back to Eden gardening has potatoes in the same spot continuously. He uses deep woodchip mulch. He harvests by hand and replaces the largest potato in the hole for the next crop as he harvests. That's all he does except schlep in the woodchip.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Dean Brown wrote:The man who does Back to Eden gardening has potatoes in the same spot continuously. He uses deep woodchip mulch. He harvests by hand and replaces the largest potato in the hole for the next crop as he harvests. That's all he does except schlep in the woodchip.


Deep, or thick, mulch?
In what climate?
 
Dc Brown
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What I specifically like about YouTube gardeners, is real time (wait a season) feedback from other gardener/subscribers on the methods people tout. Here's someone trying the Back to Eden method. The lady is not replanting immediately but that is the original practice. Right back in the same spot. I love the simplicity of it.



Basically, people lay potatoes on the soil. Add 8 inches of woodchip. Rest. Harvest as above but put the best one back.

I'm more inclined to lay out compost, maybe minerals, then potatoes, then woodchip, as I'm currently doing. The first application of woodchip, though very beneficial, takes some time to start breaking down and making it's own compost/minerals.

There are places all over my section I can get my spade into now, woodchip application was responsible for a lot of that. Mulch mowing built some good topsoil for me after a decade, woodchip only took a year or two according to location and chicken involvement. I had some very bad ground, it's turned around. I strongly suspect that fungi are performing much of the magic in these rapid soil healing processes as well; and time required is a factor sped up by deep mulching of planted areas.








 
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Remember potatoes are a member of the Solanaceae family with tomatoes, eggplant (aubergine), capsicum, etc. So, theoretically, they shouldn't be planted in the same bed year after year to avoid disease, but also nutrient depletion.

The idea being to keep the focus on the soil biota because benefits in quality produce will follow.

So, yes, they can be planted in the same bed each year but it's not recommended to maintain ongoing quality.

One caveat though; disease and nutrient depletion can be reduced by intensive farming practices like continually working the plot throughout 12 months - no fallow. That usually takes a LOT of work, life usually gets in the way and good intentions slide.

Crop rotation has a proven track record of maximising production, maintaining soil quality, with the least amount of work.
 
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Most of our favorite vegetables—beans, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes (technically fruits!)—are annuals. They complete their life cycles in a single growing season, so we have to plant them year after year. There aren't many true perennial vegetable garden plants, but there are some that behave like perennials.

Yield in Pounds. Under good, weed-free growing conditions, you can expect to get about 50 pounds of potatoes per every 2 pounds of potato seed planted. So, a 10-foot row of potatoes can vary in yield from 15 to 60 pounds, depending on care, weather conditions and whether the disease is present.

Potatoes may be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, but keep soil temperatures in mind. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. The soil should be moist, but not water-logged.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Crop rotation is not easy everywhere.... like when you have to take into account sun exposure, protection from the wind...
Of course when you have a large flat garden allowing you to plant anything anywhere you like, you can rotate more easily!
 
Dc Brown
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I'm aware of the 'need' for crop rotation with Solanaceae, but is it as necessary as we are told. Are blight and other tomato diseases symptomatic of tilling methods allowing compaction and oomycete pressure that comes with that? It seems unnatural to me that a large portion of our annual crops require rotation due to build up of disease. It seems natural that nutrient depletion from monoculture may be responsible for weakening of plants and the rise of disease that way.

Pathogen propagule numbers are obviously enhanced in the presence of their host plants but if organisms antagonistic to those pathogens were also present it may be we don't have to pamper solanums nearly so much as we've been led to believe.

Here's another set, forget, reset method. And again, some random amateurs succeeding with it. This one is the Ruth Stout method.









 
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