Simple crop rotation for a healthy veggie patch

Have you ever wanted to use crop rotation in your food garden? You are probably trying to decide which method is the best to use – there are so many different ways of rotating crops.   After a few successful trials I have a simple and easy method to share with you.

For thousands of years the practice of crop rotation has been benefiting home gardeners and farmers.

Every change of season here I look forward to getting out my seed collection and planning what veggies I am going to grow.  There’s something very comforting about planning for the half a year ahead, whilst I leaf through crinkled seed packets and seed catalogues.  Using a crop rotation sequence helps me to know which garden bed in my veggie patch I am going to grow the different plants in.

So far crop rotation has kept my veggies and herbs healthy and growing strong.  I’ve also had a good size harvest each season.

Reasons for using crop rotation every season

Crop rotation is simply planting a different family of plants in the same garden bed each season. For example, legumes in one bed and root veg in the next one.  Next season move the legumes along one bed, and the root crops along one bed too.

Breaking the pest and disease cycle

Planting the same families of plants in a garden bed each season could encourage the build-up of pests and diseases that favour that plant as a host.

Planting a different family there seasonally breaks the pest and disease cycle because their host is no longer there.

Feeding the soil with the right nutrients

Each plant family uses different amounts and types of nutrients to grow.  Planting the same plant family together in one place means you can prepare the soil in a garden bed with the nutrients that plant family needs for optimum growth.

Using crop rotation as a planning tool

Planning your veggie patch is easy when you know what family of plants you are going to rotate into each garden bed from last season.

For the coming season I planned what I was going to grow in each garden bed based on my crop rotation sequence. It made it easy to know what seeds to sow into each bed. I think I would be at a loss as to where to plant everything without crop rotation!

Common plant families in a crop rotation

You can think of a family of plants as a group of related veggies.  For example, in the Brassicaceae family (“the brassicas”) are crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, mustard, radish etc.

Common plant families used in the kitchen garden are:

Alliaceae (“the alliums”) (onion family)
chives, leeks, onions

Apiaceae (“the umbels” umbel-type flowers) (carrot family)
carrots, coriander, dill, parsley

Asteraceae (“the asters”) (daisy family)
artichokes and lettuce

Brassicaceae (“the brassicas”) (cabbage family)
artichokes and lettuce

Chenopodiaceae (“the chenopods”) (beetroot family)
beetroot, quinoa, silverbeet, spinach

Cucurbitaceae (“the cucurbits”) (cucumber family)
cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini

Fabaceae (legume family)
beans and peas

Poaceae (“the poas”)
sweetcorn and maize

Solanaceae (“the solanums”) (tomato family)
chilli, capsicum, eggplant, tomato

The names of each plant family e.g. Solanaceae, comes from the family part of each plant’s scientific name.

For example, the tomato belongs to the Solanaceae family, and its genus and species name (binomial name) is Solanum lycopersicum.

There’s a bit of science there for you that may help you to understand where the plant family names come from.

How to rotate plant families

Plan your vegetable patch for the season based on up to three plant families per garden bed, as per the list above.

Next season you can keep the group together and plant them in the next veggie bed, rotating the group one bed forward.

Here is the sequence I use for my crop rotation over four seasons:

LEGUME
Fabaceae (legume family)

upward-arrow

LEAF
Asters (daisy family)
Brassicas (cabbage family)

Chenopods (beetroot family)

upward-arrow

FRUIT
Cucurbits (cucumber family)
Poas (sweetcorn family)
Solanums (tomato family)

upward-arrow

ROOT
Alliums (onion family)
Apiaceae (carrot family)

 

Nitrogen needs

Including legumes in the rotation will replenish the soil with nitrogen.  Dig the plants in after harvest or cut them off and leave the roots in the soil for the nitrogen to feed the soil.  You can follow this nitrogen boost with a heavy feeder such as the leafy brassicas and then by families that need progressively less nitrogen e.g. solanums, cucurbits and then root veg.

In fact, root crops will fork and become disfigured as they grow down into the soil if it contains too much nitrogen.

Watering needs

Each group of plant families has slightly different watering needs.  Legumes and roots don’t need as much water as the leaf and fruit groups, which need regular deep watering in warm weather.

As an aside, the above crop rotation sequence rhymes if you say it out aloud: “legume, leaf, fruit, root”!  I find it’s a good way of remembering the sequence.

Here is how crop rotation looks in my veggie patch

 

Year 1 Winter

 

Year 1 Summer

 

Year 2 Winter

 

Year 2 Summer

 

To keep your veggie patch healthy this season to ensure an abundant harvest why not try crop rotation?  Break the pest cycle, use it as a planning tool, and prepare your garden beds with the right nutrients.