How To Rotate Vegetables in the Garden

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Rotating vegetables to a new location each year gives gardeners a one up on pest control, soil health and avoiding diseases. I personally experienced this in my 4 foot by 8 foot raised garden bed, when I switched the location of the  tomatoes and cucumbers one year. The season before, the cucumbers had developed a bad case of mildew.  When I moved them to the other side of bed they were mildew free the entire season. The tomatoes also appeared to have a better year without disease. Is rotation foll proof? No, there aren’t many fool proof methods in growing vegetables as most gardeners know, but we can do as much as possible to give our gardens the best chance for a great growing season. To understand the rotation method it’s important to know what family each vegetable you grow belongs to. These “families” are the groupings that you’ll want to rotate.

Amaryllidaceae: chives, garlic, leeks, onion

Brassicaceae: mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radish, watercress

Chenopodiaceae: beet, Swiss chard, spinach

Compositae: endive, escarole, cardoon, artichoke, sunflower, lettuce, salsify

Cucurbitaceae: gourd, melon, squash, cucumber, luffa

Gramineaez: corn

Leguminosae: peanuts, peas, beans

Solanaceae: tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato, tomatillo

Umbelliferae: celery, carrot, dill, chervil, cilantro, parsley, fennel, parsnip

The theory is that rotating the vegetable families to a new spot each year will reduce the possibility that the same pests or disease will “find” your crop again. That said, it’s much easier to do this if you have a large garden. I garden in raised beds, so I’ll be adding a new bed this year to help me in rotating the vegetables I grow. Three to four raised beds is ideal for rotation. Pick a vegetable family for each raised bed or section of the garden this year and plant as usual.  Next year, when the new garden season arrives, plant the vegetables in a different area or bed, so a rotation is started. Each year the vegetables will have a new location with different soil.

Whether you grow vegetables in a traditional garden plot or in raised beds, it’s important to keep a log as to where you plant the vegetables from year to year. Always take additional notes on diseases, pests, the specific plant and variety name, it’s growth success or failure, and your opinion on the taste of the vegetable.

Another reason to rotate your vegetable plantings from year to year is because it tends to improve the soil quality if done correctly. Any soil that has grown peas or beans will have an abundance of nitrogen. Plants in the Brassicaceae family need a soil rich in nitrogen, so they would be the perfect vegetables to plant in the location where the beans and peas were sown the year before. Once you understand the plant families, and you start keeping a detailed garden notebook, rotating vegetables becomes an easy task from year to year.

To keep things simple I have a suggested plan for 4 raised beds or sections of garden soil. Pick vegetables from the selection in each group below. How many vegetables depends on the size of your garden bed or plot.

In the second year of this plan you would move the Garden Bed #4 vegetables to Garden Bed #1, then Garden Bed #1 to #2 etc. Continue this rotation while adding new compost to the beds each year before planting. Organic fertilizers can also be used according to instructions.

Garden Bed or Area #1 Cabbages,broccoli, kale, collards, and cauliflower to bok choy, lettuce, or greens.

Garden Bed or Area #2 Onions, garlic, shallots, carrots, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and beets.

Garden Bed or Area #3 Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, tomatillos squash and pumpkin and cucumbers.

Garden Bed or Area #4 Peas and beans

Take notice that corn and potatoes are not included in this rotation. They can be added as a fifth garden bed, or planted in a different location all together, if you have room to grow one or both vegetables. They are heavy feeders, and take up quite a big of room in the garden. Crop Rotation may seem complicated when you first learn of it, but as you plant vegetables together by their family groupings, it will become clear how it works in both small and large gardens.

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