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.
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
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
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: