It’s a new year and the chances are your vegetable patch will contain lots of gaps where crops used to be. Now is the perfect time to start planning what vegetables to grow and where but how do you carry out this task? Do you start sowing at one end, filling in an orderly fashion throughout the seasons until your vegetable beds are filled? Or perhaps the aesthetics of your allotment plot is more important, with each plant’s location planned with the type of design precision you would normally reserve for the flower border?
If, however, your priorities are maintaining good soil health and giving your vegetables the best opportunities for successful growth then it’s worth considering following the rules of crop rotation.
What is crop rotation and why is it used?
The idea behind it is simple: when one type of vegetable has finished growing you follow it the next year with whatever type of vegetable will most benefit from or look after the soil the previous crop has left behind. By applying this principle to designated patches in your garden, each crop rotates around the vegetable plot in a sequence until, after the third or fourth year (depending on what rotational plan you opt for), they’re all back in the place they started.
There are a few reasons why this is an effective policy. Single crops can, over time, build up diseases, and some pests will also lay their eggs by the crop they want their offspring to munch. By moving these crops around, the diseases and pests have a reduced chance of ruining your plants.
Certain plants are also greedier for some nutrients than others, so rotating crops helps to maintain a better balance of soil quality over the years. And other crops that are good at suppressing weeds (such as potatoes) can help the whole garden if they move location each year.
To plan for crop rotation in your vegetable patch you can opt for a three- or four-year rotational policy, as follows:
Three-year crop rotation plan
Divide your garden into the following three groups:
- Group 1: Potato family
- Group 2: Legumes, onions and roots
- Group 3: Brassicas
After each year rotate the crops so that Group 1 is followed by Group 2, Group 2 is followed by Group 3, and Group 3 is followed by Group 1.
Divide your garden into the following four groups:
- Group 1: Legumes
- Group 2: Brassicas
- Group 3: Potato family
- Group 4: Onions and roots
After each year rotate the crops so that Group 1 is followed by Group 2, Group 2 is followed by Group 3, Group 3 is followed by Group 4, and Group 4 is followed by Group 1.
It’s worth noting that radish, swede and turnip are classified as brassicas and not root vegetables, while tomatoes are part of the potato family. If you’re wondering where to plant courgettes, squashes, sweetcorn and salad leaves, then the answer is ‘wherever there’s space.’ These don’t need to fit in with a precise rotation plan but do avoid keeping them in the same spot for years on end.
Get your crop rotation plan up and running now, and you won’t ever have to worry about what-goes-where again.
Do you have any questions about crop rotation? Have you tried it before? Let us know in the comments box below.