Crop rotation guide: for the best vegetable harvests

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Crop rotation is a useful tool for building and maintaining soil health and controlling pests and diseases organically.

The simple goal of crop rotation is to increase the yields of the vegetables you grow as part of your vegetable garden ideas. The principle is to alternate crops in different beds in successive years.

This is just one of many practices you can use as part of your permaculture gardening, but it isn’t necessary in every grow situation.

Crop rotation – for beginners

Large green vegetable garden

(Image credit: Future / Mathia Coco)

Crop rotation is an important part of integrated pest and soil management, and is one of the ways to help improve soil health. It is useful for growing annual vegetables and can be used in a large or small vegetable garden.

“Many of us wonder about crop rotations,” says Anton Rosenfeld of Organic garden (opens in a new tab). “There are so many different patterns in gardening books that it’s hard to know which is the right one, or even why we should bother doing it,” he continues. “Let’s make one thing clear: there is no single ‘correct’ rotation.”

The most commonly used model is a rotation of 4 crops, which would take place over 4 years. Green manures, such as pasture rye, vetch and clover are used during the winter when there are no crops in the ground and can be used as part of the rotation or to supplement rotations .

Crops to include in crop rotation

when to plant carrots in the vegetable garden

(Image credit: Emma Bailey)

Not all crops need to be included in crop rotations. Cultures are divided into 5 main categories:

  • allium: onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, spring onions
  • Legumes: including peas, beans, clover and vetch
  • Brassicaceae: including cabbage, kale, radish, rutabaga, Brussels sprouts
  • Umbelliferous: like carrot, parsnip, celery, celeriac
  • nightshades: including potato, tomato, eggplant

When planning a vegetable garden, it is useful to know what variety of vegetables the crops you have chosen belong to, because then you can decide on the best crop rotation – or if it is necessary.

The Leguminosae family – fabaceae – are called “nitrogen-fixing” plants. They have a symbiotic relationship with a type of bacteria that can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form readily available to plants. The bacteria do this for the plant in exchange for real estate in the form of nodules on plant roots. Legumes help replenish soil nitrogen levels, which are essential for healthy plant growth.

Some crops are not included in the crop rotation. For example, if you grow zucchini and other cucurbits, or sweet corn, these are not included in crop rotations. These crops can simply be grown wherever it suits you, as long as they are not grown in the same place too often.

Crop rotation can be a very valuable tool for organically minimizing pests and diseases and replenishing soil nutrients, so it’s a great idea for a sustainable garden.

Crop rotation against pests and diseases

Kale growing next to marigolds in the vegetable patch

(Image credit: Becky Searle)

Pests and diseases often live in the soil. Pests such as flea beetles, slugs, fungus gnats and leaf miners overwinter in the soil. If the plants they prefer are planted in the same soil they overwinter in, they will have an easier time finding food the following year.

If we rotate our crops, we give ourselves the best chance that the pests we had in the previous year will not reproduce the following year – the same goes for a form of natural pest control for a wildlife-friendly garden.

Diseases such as white rot, which affects alliums, also live in the soil. If white rot is unable to find a host – your alliums – it will die. It is therefore important to alternate crops when you have a problem like this, to allow it to die and the soil to become a healthy environment again.

In addition to using crop rotation to avoid pests and diseases in the soil, companion planting can help deter pests from your vegetable crops, as well as attract beneficial insects.

Crop rotation for soil nutrients

Black painted wooden compost bin in the garden

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Crop rotation always incorporates legumes, which are known to help fix nitrogen in the soil. Most ecosystems are nitrogen limited and vegetables need lots of nitrogen to support their rapid growth. Adding nitrogen to the soil in liquid form is relatively unsustainable and can, over time, make the soil saline and therefore unfriendly to many plants.

Crop rotation is just one part of maintaining healthy soils. Soil is an important ecosystem in the garden and as such we should try to minimize our soil disturbance, for example by using no-dig gardening practices, and be sure to add organic matter, including compost made house to nurture the life in the soil.

Sweet corn crop growing in a vegetable patch

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Should I rotate my crops?

In the garden, crop rotation isn’t always necessary, and we certainly shouldn’t be discouraged from growing food. If you are new to vegetable growing and deciding when to plant vegetables that you grow on a small scale, you should focus more on building organic matter in your soil.

“I don’t use a crop rotation system because my beds are polycrops and I mulch around the crops consistently, little and often,” says Liz Zorab, author of Based (opens in a new tab).

“I could make sure not to grow crucifers in the same spot in a bed immediately after the last crop, but they too are usually mixed with alliums, companion flowers and root crops. Growing a mix of vegetables in each bed reduces the chance of depleting any nutrient and also over-concentrating anything else,” she adds.

How often should I rotate my crops?

It’s a matter of personal preference as to how often you rotate your crops.

The most common scheme is a 4-crop rotation, which takes place over 4 years, or 4 seasons if you live in areas where winter snow cover is not an issue.

There is also a 3-crop rotation model, which takes place over 3 years.

A 4-year rotation pattern is generally followed if the space you are using permits, as this gives you the best chance of controlling pests and diseases in your soil and giving your soil time to replenish itself. nitrogen.

what to plant in december bean plants

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What is the 4-crop rotation?

A common crop rotation model is the 4-crop rotation. This rotation takes into account common crop problems and ensures that a nitrogen-fixing crop is used to replenish soil nutrients.

The 4-crop rotation works over 4 years or seasons, in 4 different sections. Thus, the same crops are grown every year, in different places. Alliums and Umbelliferae are grown together in the same rotation. The pattern rotates between legumes, brassicas, nightshades and alliums and umbelliferae.

An example of a 4-crop rotation is as follows:

Year 1

Bed 1: Legumes

Bed 2: Brassicaceae

Bed 3: Nightshades

Bed 4: Alliums and Umbelliferae

Year 2

Bed 1: Brassicaceae

Bed 2: Nightshades

Bed 3: Alliums and Umbelliferae

Bed 4: Legumes

Year 3

Bed 1: Nightshades

Bed 2: Alliums and Umbelliferae

Bed 3: Legumes

Bed 4: Brassicas

Year 4

Bed 1: Alliums and Umbelliferae

Bed 2: Legumes

Bed 3: Brassicaceae

Bed 4: Nightshades

To put it simply, Brassicas follow Legumes, Nightshades follow Brassicas, Alliums and Umbelliferae follow Nightshades, and Legumes follow Alliums and Umbelliferae. Then the cycles continue for as many years, on as many beds as you want.

Raised bed in the vegetable garden

(Image credit: Yeo Valley Organic Garden)

What is the 3-year crop rotation?

Another common crop rotation pattern is the 3-crop rotation. With this rotation, legumes are combined with alliums and umbelliferae. The pattern remains the same, but occurs over 3 years or seasons. This model is more suitable for small spaces. It’s also a little less complicated if you’re new to crop rotation or vegetable gardening.

A typical 3-crop rotation would look like this:

Year 1

Bed 1: Legumes, Alliums and Umbelliferae

Bed 2: Brassicaceae

Bed 3: Nightshades

Year 2

Bed 1: Brassicaceae

Bed 2: Nightshades

Bed 3: Legumes, Alliums and Umbelliferae

Year 3

Bed 1: Nightshades

Bed 2: Legumes, Alliums, Umbelliferae

Bed 3: Brassicaceae

Crop rotation can not only help you get bigger, healthier harvests of your favorite vegetables, but it also helps the environment, as it keeps the soil healthy and helps control pests and diseases organically. .

Many of the easiest-to-grow vegetables can be included in crop rotations, so what’s not to love?

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