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.
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.
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.
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).
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!