Beginner's Guide to Crop Rotation

If you are designing a garden for growing vegetables, you will no doubt already have thought about where you want to put your beds and you may have given some thought to what you will grow in each one. If you are an organic gardener and especially if you are interested in permaculture, you may have considered layers within each growing area and looked into the benefits of companion planting. However, even within a layered permaculture approach, without the straight rows and mono-crop planting structure of more traditional gardeners, you will probably still want to think about some form of crop rotation.

Crop rotation is not considered to be absolutely essential for all crops but there are certain families of plants which will most definitely do better year after year if they are rotated between different areas and so not spend too long taking the nutrients from the same soil and possibly coming down with a whole host of soil-hosted pests and diseases. While some of the problems of soil depletion will likely be combated by planting beneficial nitrogen fixing plants and by adding nutrition to the soil in the form of various organic mulches, crop rotation is still generally considered to be a good policy, though carefully planned permaculture gardens may not require it at all as long as persistent pests do not cause a problem that requires crops to be moved.

If you do decide to rotate at least some crops then this is usually very straightforward. Usually, the families that require the most thought when it comes to crop rotation are legumes, brassicas and potato family crops. Other plant families may benefit from rotation but many people would argue that moving other vegetable crops is not as crucial. Legumes, like peas and beans, raise the levels of available nitrogen in the soil. Some plants will find this extra nitrogen to be too much, while others, like the brassicas, will thrive.

So, year one, you might have potatoes in bed one, legumes in bed two and brassicas in bed three. (Along with their various companions, of course.) Year two you could then have your legumes in bed one, brassicas in bed two and potatoes in bed three. This way, the leafy, heavy feeders, the brassicas, can benefit from the nitrogen left by the nitrogen-fixing legumes. A four or eight bed system will allow you ample divisions and enable you to rotate your crops to maintain good organic health.

One of the main things is that whether you decide on a strict crop rotation or not you should aim to keep your garden ticking over and the soil in some sort of equilibrium. Soil health and taking care of your growing medium is one of the main things that will make your organic garden a success. So plan ahead and think about layering in time as well as space. Take care of your soil while getting it to work as hard for you as possible.