Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Crop Rotation Tips for Vegetable Gardens
What is Crop Rotation? Why Is It Good for Vegetables?
If you grow your tomatoes in the same garden bed year after year, you will notice an increase in pests and diseases. Break the cycle! Take a moment to learn about the basics of crop rotation. Your plants will thank you with a bigger, healthier harvest.
In the mad rush to get the garden planted in the spring, we forget all about something as important as crop rotation to help avoid disease.
In the example of tomatoes: Simply move the tomato plants to a bed where the squashes grew last year. That will confuse those hornworms!
Crop Rotation Families
The key to successful crop rotation is “all in the family.” Even though tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes look nothing alike, they are kissing cousins in the same botanical family, the nightshades.
Here are some other major family groupings:
- Cucurbits: Squash, cukes, pumpkins, melons, and gourds.
- Brassicas: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, and collards.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, and soybeans.
- Alliums: Onions, leeks, and garlic.
- Umbellifers: Carrots, parsnips, fennel, parsley, and dill.
There are many more families but some have only one member that we would grow in a home vegetable garden, like corn, okra, or sweet potatoes. I love the fact that sweet potatoes are in a family all their own making them an easy fit to grow where every other family has been lately. In a small garden, you can group some families together like putting brassicas with legumes and lettuce to make rotations easier.
Lessen Disease and Insect Problems.
Each family often suffers from the same pests and diseases. Crop rotation is where we grow vegetables from each major plant family in different areas each year.
Soil borne diseases which can build up after years of growing the same plants in the same place. It might not cure all your disease problems but it can make a dent. As for insects, it can make it harder for overwintering pests to find their first meal.
Get to the root of crop rotation.
Plants with different root lengths benefit your soil structure. Deeply rooted crops such as tomatoes, carrots, or beets break up the soil creating channels for air and water as they seek out minerals in the subsoil, bringing them up closer to the surface where other plants can use them next year.
Alternative Heavy and Light Feeders
Look at alternating heavy feeders with light feeders to reduce demands on your soil.
- Heavy feeders, including corn, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and cukes use up a lot of nitrogen to produce their fruit and leaves. Give their beds a rest by planting carrots, potatoes, beets, or onions.
- To add nitrogen naturally, plant legumes which have nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots. In the fall don’t pull the plants up, instead clip them off and let the roots decay in the soil. They will leave behind nitrogen ready for next year’s plants to make use of.
Planning Crop Rotation
Depending on the size of your garden you can plan rotations that cover 3, 4, 5, 6 or more years, with 3 years being the minimum recommended.
Don’t rely on your memory! To do this you need to start writing down what you have planted where.
It’s also difficult organize well, particularly if you are growing different amounts of a variety of crops.
This is where garden planning software really comes into its own. Rather than having to remember a complete planning history of which vegetables were grown where over the past 3 to 5 years, and which family each vegetable belongs to, the tool just takes care of that for you.
In our Garden Planner, each vegetable has an area around it to tell you how much space it requires. The color indicates the crop family! When you plan a new season, it remembers what you have planted before and shows a red warning signal if you should avoid planting a vegetable in the area.
The simplest rule is to grow your crops in different areas. Crop rotation is the best preventative medicine you can gvie to your garden.
A simple garden plan will be your best friend next year when it comes time to decide where those tomatoes should go.
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.