Why rotate your vegetable garden?

An Aerial view of multiple different vegetable fields. An example of crop rotation.

To be successful as a vegetable gardener, it pays to understand the soil that are growing your vegetables.

“Land is not merely soil, it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” Aldo Leopold (1989). “A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There”, p.216, Oxford University Press, USA (https://www.azquotes.com/author/8737-Aldo_Leopold).

Mineral particles, organic matter, air, and water, all contribute to good soil.

An ideal soil is made-up of the following attributes:

Soil with seedling planted.
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  1. Held together in a crumb-like situation.
  2. Roots can grow easily through the soil.
  3. Air and water able to move quickly through the soil and no pooling of water.
  4. The soil does not set hard or become dusty when dry.

Soil needs to be looked after to remain productive for your garden, and different crops consume difference nutrients from the soil. So, if we are not a commercial grower and have limited land space to grow on, we need to be understanding of the soil and the needs of that soil. Soil provides many of the nutrients for plants. Like humans, plants need a range of nutrients, and they get them through a balanced diet of essential minerals, similar to us humans. Humans need nutrients that come from the plants that we eat.

Humans also prepare foods and vegetables on the diets that we like or are required to eat, and so do plants. In rotating crops:

  1. They should be rotated in their family groups according to their preferred soil conditions.
  2. Seasonal rotation is best. For smaller gardens, you could try rotation every two seasons but test out what is best for your environment.

Crop rotation prevents soil fatigue. Eliminating the same vegetable crop from drawing on the same soil nutrients season-after-season.

Rotation also prevents a build-up of pests and diseases in any-one-part of the garden.

Vegetable plants grown in the same garden bed season-after-season are likely to reduce in production as they become weaker year-after-year. As a learner gardener, I have experienced all this. Planting the same crops in the same garden bed season and experiencing poor returns of poor weak vegetables. I now group them into different families and have a plan to plant in the various garden beds.

My plant families and garden beds look something like this:

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Family One: The Legumes, which are your peas and beans, like to grow on well-composted soil, they help improve the soil structure and fix the nitrogen in the soil.

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Family Two: The Brassica family. This family consists of Cauliflower, Cabbage, Kale, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts and Tatsoi – Chinese Cabbage and include the green leafy vegetables. The Brassica’s love the nitrogen in the soil that has been left by Family one – The Legumes.

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Family Three: The Alliums, who consist of onions, garlic, shallots and leeks. This family add texture and flavours to your cooking. The Alliums like the soil that the Brassicas have resided in previously. The soils are all broken up by the roots of the Brassica family.

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Family Four: The Roots. This family consist of your Beetroots, Carrots, Celery and Parsnips. The roots prefer non-rich soil that has been composted by a previous crop so that their roots can develop well in a light sandy type soil.

Tomato and Pumpkin, I tend to keep separate finding a place to rotate them by themselves.

Lettuce garden with other vegetable garden beds nearby – Image by Kenan Kitchen on Unsplash

It may also pay to name your garden beds too.

Garden Bed One: The Legumes

Garden Bed Two: The Brassicas

Garden Bed Three: The Alliums

Garden Bed Four: The Roots

The Legumes setting up home in garden bed one. The Brassicas setting home in garden bed two, The Alliums in garden bed three and The Roots setting up home in garden bed four. The following season, rotating them up the garden bed order with the Brassicas moving to garden bed one, while the Legumes moves to the roots former garden bed four.

Crop rotation has been used throughout time and potentially will have positives effects on the most valuable of ingredients to the vegetable scene and growing, the soil.

Give crop rotation a try, plan on paper before you develop your garden beds and keep a note of which crop has been in which garden bed. But most of all, have fun with rotating your crops. See the positive benefits to your vegetable growth, that’s all because you are looking after the soil!

We are interested in your story about rotating your vegetables. Leave a comment for us of your success or otherwise.

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