What is Crop Rotation, Exactly?
For over 10,000 years, farmers have grown different types of crops on the same plot of land, known as 'crop rotation', and it is only recently in mass mono-crop farms that that has changed, to the detriment of our common soil.
Producing one type of crop over and over again on the same land attracts pests and diseases like an all-you-can-eat buffet! Then to mitigate the pest problems, commercial farmers rely on industrial-strength pesticides to destroy the invaders, which is non-discriminatory in killing all critters, useful or not, leading to diminished pollinators, which is directly proportional to lower crop production, which forces the monocrop farmer to resort to adding chemical fertilisers, and so on. A sort of crazy that has lead to our current epidemic of soil erosion and soil infertility.
Taking in the wisdom of our ancestors, there are many benefits to applying crop rotation techniques in your own garden beds. By changing the vegetables in your beds, you help to break up disease infestations, stop insect life cycles, and even help add amendments to your bedding soil!
To start, divide your growing space into distinct areas and then group plants by type so you can keep track of which plants go next in the rotation. My life is busy keeping up with twin boys and working full time outside of the home, so I keep it easy by having only four raised veggie beds for the four basic plant groups:
1. Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale)
2. Solanaceae (eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes)
3. Alliums (chive, leeks, garlic, onions)
4. Legumes (peas, beans)
Also, root vegetables such as carrots, beets and potatoes do best when not competing with each other and instead, place with leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, arugula and Swiss chard.
Another recommendation is to leave one garden bed empty to plant cover crops (more on that later!) to in essence, 'feed' your soil. Think of it as allowing that part of your garden or raised bed to take a vacation.
To get even deeper into the crop rotation headspace, you can even plant different 'types' of crops in a certain order to maximize their effectiveness, as follows:
Otherwise, a handy little poem to remember for the order of crops is "beans, roots, greens then fruits".
LEGUMES - After your early spring peas and late spring beans are harvested, follow by autumn and winter crops such as cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts.
CARROTS - Why not start another round of autumn peas and beans when your summer cucumbers are done?
POTATOES - Potatoes are heavy feeders, plant leafy greens such as cabbage, lettuces, mustards etc that do not require high concentrations of nutrients.
CUCUMBERS - After your cucs and squashes are harvested, go back to planting legumes for a possible late autumn harvest!