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Crop Rotation

Have you harvested all your summer tomatoes and pulled out the withered plants yet? 
Well then...it's the perfect time to plan where to plant your winter veggies, keeping in mind the important principle of
 crop rotation.
Crop rotation is a simple procedure that involves not planting the same crop in the same soil for at least two years. Avid gardeners prefer a rotation of up to six years but if that's too serious for you, just follow the simple rule of not growing members of the same plant family, in the same soil, in consecutive seasons...

The reasons for crop rotation are:
1) to prevent a build up of pathogens in the soil which can infect and re-infect particular families of plants.
2) to allow for a more balanced soil fertility and microbial balance.  As plants absorb different quantities of soil nutrients, repeated plantings in the same spot will quickly deplete the soil of particular nutrients.

Plant families

So firstly you need to know what family your plants belong to. Below is a list of some of the more common vegetables, sorted into family groupings.

 
Cruciferaea Kale, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Kohl Rabi, Radish, Swede, Turnip, Mustard
Solanaceae Potatoes, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Capsicum, Chillies, Tobacco
Amaryllidaceae Chives, Garlic, Leek, Onion, Spring Onion, Shallots
Chenapodiaceae Beetroot, Silverbeet, Spinach
Gramineae Corn
Compositeae Globe Artichoke, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lettuce, Endive
Leguminoseae Peas, Beans, Broad Beans, Snow Peas
Apiaceae Carrots, Celery, Celeriac, Coriander, Dill, Parsley, Parsnip
Curcurbitaceae Cucumber, Choko, Marrow, Melons, Pumpkin, Squash, Zucchini, Gourds
 
What to grow, Where?
  • Make a list of the vegetables you would like to grow for the season, then group these together in family groups.
  • Think about your garden area, and divide it up according to the number of family groups you have selected. This can be as simple as allocating a number of rows in a traditional vegetable plot, or you can use completely separate beds in opposite corners of your garden!
  • Decide on an annual ordering sequence for placement of the family groups (see examples below) and record this in a garden diary or notebook which you can keep handy. Record your successes and failures so you can alter plans if required, based on your experience.
  • A common vegetable to start the sequence are legumes. These plants have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen and store it in the soil in a form that is accessible to plants. It is particularly beneficial to allow these plants to break down into the soil once their productive life is over. This helps to add nitrogen rich organic matter to the bed.
  • With all of this ‘extra’ nitrogen available, it makes sense to follow this crop with a nitrogen hungry one to reap the benefits. Good examples are corn or leafy green vegetables.
  • Another general rule is to grow root crop vegetables after particularly hungry crops, as vegetables in the carrot or onion family tend to be good nutrient scavengers and can be grown in comparatively poorer soil than other crops.
  • Don’t forget to improve your soil along the way! You still need to feed your plants with all the goodies like compost, manure, worm castings and the odd liquid feed to get the best from your garden.
  • If you have the space, growing a green manure crop somewhere in the cycle is really beneficial. It helps to replenish nitrogen stores and is an excellent way to build up the organic matter in the soil.
  • The more crops you intend to grow, the more complex the overall plan becomes, but don’t despair! There are no hard and fast rules, so just have fun with your garden! If it all seems too hard, scale it right down to making sure you don’t follow with the same crop in the same spot year after year.
  • In small gardens, you can try growing certain crops in pots to give you more room, which also serves to rest the soil.
Crop Rotation Tables

There are a number of options for crop rotation if you have a small to medium sized veggie garden.  Here's a very simple crop rotation system for the average home gardener:
  1. Legumes (beans, peas, broad beans), followed by
  2. Leafy Veggies (lettuce, spinach, cabbage, celery), followed by
  3. Fruiting and Flowering (tomatoes, corm, zucchini, melons, cucumbers), followed by
  4. Root Crops (carrots, beetroot, radishes, turnips, onions, potatoes), followed by
  5. Fallow or green manure (the bed is left to grow weeds and regenerative plants such as alfalfa), followed by
  6. Fruiting and Flowering (as above).  Then a return to legumes.
 
The following system is a more complex one, done purely as an example.
In this scenario, winter and summer crops are listed over a five year rotation, for four garden beds.
Season/Year Bed 1 Bed 2 Bed 3 Bed 4
Winter 1 Peas Potatoes/
Spinach
Broccoli/
Cabbage
Green Manure
Summer 1 Corn Cucumber/
Melons
Carrots/
Strawberries
Tomatoes/
Lettuce
Winter 2 Potatoes Broccoli/
Cabbage
Green Manure/
Peas
Spinach
Summer 2 Cucumber/Melons Carrots Tomatoes/
Lettuce/Corn
Strawberries
Winter 3 Broccoli/Cabbage Green Manure Spinach/
Potatoes
Peas
Summer 3 Carrots Tomatoes/
Lettuce
Strawberries/
Cucumber
Corn
Winter 4 Green Manure Spinach/Broccoli Peas Potatoes
Summer 4 Tomatoes
Lettuce
Carrots
Strawberries Corn Cucumber/
Melons
Winter 5 Spinach Peas/Green Manure Potatoes Broccoli/
Cabbage
Summer 5 Strawberries
Tomatoes
Corn Cucumber
Melons
Lettuce
Carrots
 
This information is a guide only – many variable factors such as garden bed location, sunlight, water needs, etc. may need to be considered, and are unique to your own backyard.
Above all, have fun planning and planting your veggie garden.
Keep a record of your successes and failures as you go along and enjoy the journey!
 
Of course if you have a Vital Veggies garden and service plan in place, we do all of the above for you, so you can “forget” the crop rotation rules and simply reap the harvest rewards! 

 
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