A firm believer in 3-year crop rotation, I sow my runner beans in a different plot every year. After they crop, I dig their stems and roots into the soil, to replenish it with their captured nitrogen; I then dismantle the bamboo support frame and reconstruct it elsewhere. To avoid this hassle, several of my gardener friends dig in plenty of manure and use the same plot year after year - and their plants thrive and crop well (sometimes better than mine!). If their long-term failure to ‘sow by the rules’ has depleted the soil of certain nutrients, it certainly isn’t apparent. Is it really necessary to rotate runner beans?

  • Nutrient cycling is part of rotation, but isn't one of the other considerations disease and pest buildup? – bstpierre Jun 22 '11 at 1:08
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    Absolutely (see my comment on Shane's answer, below); however, some of my friends have been growing runner beans on the same plot for ten years now and, surprisingly, their crops don't seem to have been damaged by pests and diseases. – Mancuniensis Jun 22 '11 at 12:39

The manure is going to include other nutrients as well nitrogen - there's probably a sufficient spread of nutrient types that depletion is slow or non-existent.

One advantage of your rotation is that your beans are adding nitrogen to the soil in different parts of the garden. You should also be less prone to pests - which it sounds like isn't currently a problem for you and your friends in your area at the moment.

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    Precisely. To me the advantage of rotation is not to your legumes but to whatever you put in the spot where the legumes were last year. So how do the tomatoes and brassicas your gardener friends fare compared to yours planted where the beans were the previous season? – Lisa Nov 21 '11 at 0:02

If you work new soil into your beds every year I don't see any point in crop rotation. Composting your stems and roots, along with some manure, kitchen scraps (coffee grounds, etc), and leaves during the summer and then working that into your soil prior to planting your new crop next spring is a great way to keep your soil nutrient level fresh.

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    You are right - nutritional deficiencies can probably be prevented by enriching the soil but, as bstpierre points out, over the years there could be a build-up of pests and diseases, given that these tend to target specific plant families; with crop rotation, the eggs, spores and pests will decline in the absence of the host plants. – Mancuniensis Jun 22 '11 at 12:20
  • @Mancuniensis: Thanks. That hasn't been a problem for me, but then again I've only been gardening for a few years. – Shane Jun 22 '11 at 13:06

The reason people like to do crop rotation is to avoid pests staying in the soil, and to replete nutrients lost from the soil. But some people like Elaine Ingham say that the soil will not be depleted of nutrients in anyone's lifetime if you keep the soil biology intact. Ruth Stout found the same thing. She mulched year after year and kept planting the same crops without rotation with no problems. And she replenished the soil biology by using hay which fed the worms and microbiota, and cast some meal over the hay. A woody material helps also to replenish the soil fungi which hold a significant proportion of the soil micronutrients in their bodies.

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