When most people hear the term “crop rotation,” they usually picture large farms, not a backyard garden. However, the agricultural reasons for crop rotation that work for large farms also work for gardens of any size. Crop rotation is a basic principle of planting that will give you the best chance of reaping a large, healthy harvest.
Crop rotation is simply the process of planting crops from the same plant family in different garden plots or raised beds each year. Some of the benefits of rotating your crops are:
- Decreases the chance of pest infestation, thus lessening the need for pest control (Those pests are just waiting in that spot for their favorite food to return!)
- Decreases the spread of soil-borne disease
- Lessens the depletion of micro-nutrients in the soil because different families of crops have different needs
- Balances soil fertility
Crop rotation does not alleviate the need to test your soil annually or fertilize appropriately, but it does consider the way different plants take from and add to the soil. If you plant the right crops after certain crops, you can actually help your soil and reap a better harvest. For example, legumes (beans and peas) are light feeders and actually fix nitrogen into the soil, whereas corn is a heavy feeder and requires extra nitrogen to grow. Thus, growing corn in the plot or bed where you grew beans the last season would be helpful.
There are various ways farmers and gardeners rotate their crops. Some base their rotation technique on heavy feeders vs. light feeders (like my example of legumes and corn above). Some base it on root structure, alternating root vegetables and deep-rooted plants with shallow-rooted plants. Others base it on plant family recommendations, which is how I do it.
In addition to not planting the same family of crops in the same place, here’s an additional guide to planting based on plant families:
- LEGUMES: Follow with brassicas, corn, carrot family. DO NOT FOLLOW with alliums.
- CARROT FAMILY: Follow with lettuce and tomatoes (nightshades).
- BRASSICAS: Follow with legumes and alliums. DO NOT FOLLOW with tomatoes (nightshades).
- CUCURBITS: Follow with peas (legume) and radishes (brassica). DO NOT FOLLOW with potatoes (nightshades).
- LETTUCE: Follow with carrot family, cucurbits, radishes (brassica).
- ALLIUMS: Follow with brassicas and lettuce. DO NOT FOLLOW with legumes.
- NIGHTSHADES: Follow with carrot family, alliums. DO NOT FOLLOW with brassicas
This is just a basic guide, and you will find several variations online or when talking to other gardeners. Choose a method and keep it in mind when creating your garden plan. To be honest, this can get rather interesting when you have three planting seasons a year like I do! (Thus, my decision to colorize my garden plan by plant family.)
Remember, with all things gardening, a lot is accomplished by trial and error, so don’t stress over this. Whichever crop rotation method you choose, you will be working towards healthier soil, which means healthier plants – all to bring you that long-awaited harvest in great abundance.