Where, oh, where should the tomatoes go? It is that time of year when, in the mad rush to get the garden planted, we forget all about something as important as crop rotation to help avoid disease.
If you have been growing your tomatoes in the same garden bed year after year, you have probably noticed a decline in productivity and an increase in pests and diseases. This year, break the cycle and move those tomatoes 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.
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.
Foiling bugs and disease.
Along with the benefits crop rotation gives to your soil fertility come the lessening of 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.
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.
Or, keep track on your computer. There’s a handy tool called the Almanac Garden Planner which includes crop rotation warnings to tell you where to avoid placing vegetables, based on prior years’ plans. It will even show how many of each plant you require and when to sow, plant, and harvest.
A simple garden plan will be your best friend next year when it comes time to decide where those tomatoes should go.