Crop Rotation – It’s Only Common Sense!

Crop rotation is a fancy phrase for a simple concept, but many gardeners just don’t get it.  It’s not rocket surgery, just shift your veggie garden around each year so that you avoid growing the same things in the same place repeatedly.

vegetable garden

Well rotated vegetable garden

Obviously this isn’t an option for perennial plantings, if you transplant your rhubarb or asparagus each year you won’t be able to harvest much, but any annual crops can and should be sown or transplanted into a new spot each season.

I remember a customer at the garden centre who was looking for advice about growing spuds.  He told me that he used to grow a great crop of potatoes but in the last few years they had progressively gone downhill.  They were all scabby, full of worms and basically inedible.  When I asked him if he moved his potato patch around he said “of course not, they do best in a certain corner of the garden, that’s where I’ve always planted them”.  Oh, really?  I guess common sense isn’t really all that common…  I gently pointed out the obvious and he seemed quite grateful for the info.

Potatoes

Potatoes

The reasons are simple and obvious, if you think about it for a bit.  If you’ve had a pest or disease problem with a certain veggie, replanting it in the same area is bound to result in even more trouble because the offending pestilence will most likely have overwintered in that very spot.  You can even run into troubles if you replant with related crops.  For example; if your leeks were infected with rust last year, you should avoid planting leeks, garlic or onions in the same place.

It’s also a good idea to consider how taxing the crop is to soil nutrition.  Any that require a lot of nitrogen (leafy plants or things that grow really big) should be followed by less demanding crops unless you are able to add a generous helping of compost to rebuild your soil.  I like to follow the heavy feeders with root crops like carrots or spuds that produce better with less nitrogen.

Corn and pumpkins

Corn and pumpkins...nutrient hogs!

Now stay with me here, I don’t want to make crop rotation sound difficult.  It’s not, really!  Even if all you do is to shift things around so that you’re not repeating yourself, that’s okay.  I keep track in a little black book, my garden journal.  Each year I draw a simple map of the garden, scribbling down what went where.  When I’m organizing my seeds and figuring out what I want to grow for the following season I can refer to my map (it’s much more reliable than my memory).

My garden journal

My garden journal

I know that there are gardeners who subscribe to much more complicated methods of crop rotation, where certain crops always follow certain other crops and a strict schedule of rotation is adhered to, but I’m just not that type of gardener.  And my garden produces quite well, so don’t get your drawers in a knot about crop rotation, just use a little common sense!

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About hortophile

I am a very opinionated, slightly obsessed gardener with decades of experience in the retail nursery industry. A lucky resident of the "Wet Coast" of British Columbia I tread a muddy path between practicality and beauty, with my veggie patch, herb garden and fruits vying for position with the beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers that I can't resist. DON'T ask me to choose between them! I believe in environmental responsibility and common sense.
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9 Responses to Crop Rotation – It’s Only Common Sense!

  1. barb19 says:

    I agree -common sense is the way to go!

  2. Well I never thought about crop rotation in this way. If it grows up the next crop you plant must grow down…is that simple? No probably not :( So at the moment I am growing loads of cabagges, spinach and broccoli. I was going to plant zucchin, tomatoes and cucumber, beans and cucumber next does that mean I can’t? Because it is a raised bed I was going to turn and fertisize the soil…but you comment about bugs makes sense. Not thought about those. What do you think?

    • hortophile says:

      Well, it’s never simple, but if you add plenty of nutrients you will address depletion issues. As for bugs, it depends on which pests you were troubled with previously. If they’re soil-borne, try turning the soil after harvest and picking them out (I only suggest this because I know your garden isn’t immense) or letting your local birds at them. Pests that lay eggs or shelter in plant debris will be removed when you clean up…so practice good garden hygiene. Many fungal diseases can be controlled through hygiene too, but if you’ve had a fungal or bacterial problem with a certain crop it’s best to avoid replanting it or anything related to it in the same spot. It really depends on what the problem is, some diseases can persist in the soil for years…so disease identification is critical. Now I’ve gone and made it sound difficult again, haven’t I? >_< Sorry…

      • We had a problem with white mold on zucchin last year…but since then the whole plot has been dug out, base of bed relined and soil put back in a again. Perhaps I will rest and area of the bed in the summer when water is expensive. HAve you ever tried planting green manure? I think it is to do with nitrogen. You dig the plants back into the soil

      • hortophile says:

        Growing “green manure” is a great, cost-effective, organic way to replenish your soil. I have run into problems when I’ve grown rye because it encourages wireworms to overwinter in the garden (provides them a handy food source!). What I should really do is experiment with different green manure crops – wireworms are a terrible problem in my garden!

  3. Growing veg is certainly a challenge! I never thought about the associated problems of green manure…sigh I think revitalising my soil is going to be quote a challenge.

    Friends keep telling me I should go and get some rotted horse manure. Other friends tell me I would have to hand sift through it to take the bugs out of it. Yeah right! Perhaps the good old compost heap is the best option.

  4. Reed says:

    Your garden looks truly beautiful. So tidy! I’m a bit jealous!

    Love your blog!

  5. Spencer says:

    I rotate my garden, the challenge is my garden size. My garden is not really big so I have to be creative in my rotations. Because my garden is small I don’t think rotation helps with my insects, but it helps in my mind and helps me develop good habits for when I expand. In my area Late Blight is a big issue so I try to move my tomatoes and peppers around. Late Blight over Winters on plant material, so two Winters with no viable plant material is good.

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