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Letting a Field Lie Fallow

In agriculture, letting a field lie fallow (leaving it unplanted for a year) helps restore the soil’s natural nutrient balance.

Without really planning to, I ended up giving our raised garden beds a rest from planting during a recent growing season. Within that decision, I also gave myself a break.

It seems like gardening sometimes reveals spiritual parallels about life (I wrote more about this in “Our Hidden Garden,”) but I’d never considered this concept of letting the dirt recover. 

Native grasses blowing in the wind in a fallow field.

What is Fallow Ground?

The definition of a fallowed field or garden is to simply allow the land to “lie idle” without cultivating it for a season.

Letting a field lay fallow helps restore the soil’s natural nutrient balance. Giving the land a rest can also get rid of crop pests, since they don’t have anything to munch.

Leaving the soil unplanted for a season can also end common diseases that attack specific plants.

I vaguely remembered the Bible verse in Exodus about letting the land go fallow in the seventh year, but had assumed this was a Sabbath Law. Turns out it’s also practical growing advice.

Unintentionally Fallowing Our Garden

Do you ever fall short of your gardening plans? It’s mid-June as I’m writing this, and I had hoped to do so much more in the garden this summer.

I planted our kitchen garden with tomatoes and herbs after Mother’s Day. Then we took a vacation at the end of May, so I decided to wait to plant the raised beds on the north side of the yard until we returned.

For the next two weeks it was hot and dry with no rain. Now it’s three weeks into June, and those beds still lie empty.

I’ve visited several garden centers, looking for vegetable and pumpkin plants, but the pickings are slim this late in the season. Without really realizing it, I’ve also been mentally beating myself up.

Do you recognize this little voice?

You should have planned better.

You should have grown plants from seed to save money.

You should have gotten everything in the ground before we left on vacation.

You should be more organized in general!

Rotation and Rest

A raised garden bed that is not planted and is going fallow.

Then I stumbled on a good article about crop rotation, and learned about the science behind giving the garden a rest.

Rotating crops helps prevent diseases that can develop in the dirt and can aid in building healthy soil.

Rejuvenating the soil by fallowing will save you money on fertilizer and irrigation next year, when you plant in the improved space.

This also helped me understand why the pumpkins I’ve been trying to grow have done progressively worse every year.

Each spring I’ve planted different pumpkin varieties in the same raised garden I stubbornly call the “pumpkin patch.” I’ve watered, and weeded and fussed.

Last summer, not a single pumpkin flourished on the vines. By planting the same thing over and over and trying to force a harvest, I’ve been depleting the soil of the very nutrients it needs to sustain life.

After reading about occasionally letting the land go unplanted to heal the soil, I considered the idea of simply letting the raised gardens rest for a season. I instantly knew it was the right idea, because I was flooded with relief.

Not only could I not plant the garden, it might be beneficial! That’s all it took for me to give myself permission to let those beds lie fallow this summer.

Repose and Rejuvenation

Two rocking chairs on a front porch.

On a recent Friday evening I walked next door to the cool of my friend Leslie’s front porch. We sipped wine, talked about life, and discovered that we both long to slip into summer’s more relaxed pace.

At the same time, the season brings a host of activities and tasks and expectations. Perhaps many of us feel like we’re scrambling to do everything on our summer bucket list.

My friend and I agreed we want to try and slow down to take in the beauty of these precious days that are passing so quickly.

Now that I’ve decided to give the soil a break, it feels like this season heralds a different kind of growth — words finally coming together for a longtime project, sweet hours with old friends, and time to nurture new things.

We’ve enjoyed so many good and plentiful harvests, but this year will be a little quieter in the garden.

At summer’s end I may plant those empty beds with autumn-hardy kale and cabbage and broccoli. Or perhaps I’ll sow a cover crop like rye. Then again, maybe I’ll simply let the gardens recover until next spring.

How About You?

Do you have an overworked field in your life that might benefit from lying fallow for a season? Is there anything that’s causing pressure or hanging over your head, that you could simply let rest for a bit?

Drop a comment below, because I always love hearing your thoughts.

This post was originally published on June 21, 2018 and updated March 18, 2023.

P.S. If you use Pinterest to save and share ideas, here’s a handy pin:

A field that has gone fallow, with native grasses growing.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is the author of 17 books, including Small Bites and 101 Things To Do With Bacon. She shares ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, time and money. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.

9 thoughts on “Letting a Field Lie Fallow”

  1. Good for you Eliza! I love the idea of intentionally slowing down and putting unnecessary things to rest so we can truly savor the summer.

    • Thank you, Diane! I loved your blog post about pruning in order to make space to grow:


      Here’s to embracing the things that matter this summer. xoxo

  2. Yes, I have chosen to let rest some relationships that have become anxiety producing

    I am letting rest the pre planning and fretting involved before each of these encounters

    I am letting rest the “need” to respond to cutting and unkind comments

    I am letting rest the need to fix these relationships

    I am letting rest the mental review of each of these times of stress

    I am letting go of the memory of past negativity

    As I once read……these are not your people❤️

    • Mary, I love your list of things you’re letting go. Thank you so much for sharing this, and may you enjoy rest and rejuvenation. xo

  3. Eliza…my daughter, Leslie, your neighbor, is a wonderful mentor in all walks of life….
    Having grown up myself in Nebraska with family still in agriculture, I have always been involved in resting the soil. One year it’s corn, the next year it’s alfalfa.
    Here in City life, I started my seedlings in an aquarium so that by the time they were ready to go outside they were fully developed. That being the case I shall have kale of various varieties and beets throughout the seasons and into Winter back into the house. All this matters especially to me is that I can walk by, admire and realize my much love wildlife cannot get into my “beds”. Ahhhh…. another sequel of rest and relaxation,

    • Ann, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Leslie is the most wonderful neighbor imaginable, and I am blessed to live next door! She inspires me to have fun and enjoy life, and it sounds like you share her joie de vivre. What a cool way to start your seedlings and enjoy fresh produce for a longer growing season. I like that idea! Thanks again, and I hope to see you on one of your visits.

  4. Eliza,

    Thank you for planting seeds of rest into a sometimes chaotic world! I write a book series of FROG blogs (500 words or less about simple living and often include nature walks harvesting wide lens reflections).

    This morning, I just discovered your valuable writing when I searched “let the land lay fallow.” I am writing a piece (and peace!) about how a DJ’s comment inspired me to divide my weekends into 3 parts. The short version of her comment was, “I wish I had a day to do what I have to do; a day to do what I want to do; and a day to do nothing.”

    Interesting how what you wrote 2 years ago is reaping harvest to my spiritual crop today! Thank you! Christina M Eder, Oak Ridge, TN

  5. Just the article I needed to read ! I have not started a single seed indoors or planted a single vegetable in any of my 13 raised beds this year…I usually grow about 15 different veggies every year and have begun to feel a little guilty about “not doing anything”… You see, my dad was an avid gardener. He taught me how to grow my own food when I was a child. Into my adulthood, I taught my own children and had many conversations about gardening with my dad over the years, asking him for advice and sharing pictures of our harvests…Well, my dad passed away this last last year. I haven’t been emotionally available I guess to start my garden this year.

    Thank you for expressing that its okay, for whatever reason, to take a break and let the garden “lie idle”.


    • Sara, your comment brought a tear to my eye and I’m so sorry you had to say goodbye to your dear dad. He sounds like a wonderful man who taught you some amazing skills, and it’s so special that you shared a common love of gardening and have passed it on to your own children. I lost my sweet father some years ago, and the grief that follows is a journey and a tender time. I’m glad you’ve given yourself permission to let your spirit and your garden take a rest and rejuvenate. Sending you a hug! ~Eliza


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