How to Use Crop Rotation in your Garden or Smallholding

Crop rotation can help to improve the health of your garden, allotment or smallholding by replenishing nitrogen levels, and limiting the need for pesticides and fertilizers, making it a useful technique when gardening organically

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Crop rotation has traditionally been used for hundreds of years to get the most of the soil’s nutrients and reduce the risk of microbial diseases and insect infestation, by moving your crops each year to a different area of soil. Crop rotation can help to improve the health of your garden, allotment or smallholding by replenishing nitrogen levels, and limits the need for pesticides and fertilizers, making it a highly effective way of gardening organically.

 Know your crops

 Begin planning your crop rotation by knowing your crops and their properties. Divide them into families:

  • Alliums (onion): onions, leeks, shallot, chive and garlic

  • Umbeliferae (carrot and root): carrot, parsnip, celeriac

  • Asteraceae (sunflower): sunflower, lettuce, leafy greens

  • Brassicas (cabbage): cabbage, Brussels sprout, broccoli, kale, leafy greens

  • Chenopodiaceae (beetroot): spinach, beetroot, chard

  • Cucurbits (squash and marrow): cucumber, melon, squash, gourd, pumpkin, courgette

  • Solanaceae (potato and tomato): tomato, pepper, aubergine, potato

  • Legumes: pea and bean

  • Grass: wheat, corn, rye, oats

 Once you’ve sorted your crops into their key families, you can plan where each will be planted in order to make the most of the benefits of crop rotation.

 Get planning

 To make the most of using crop rotation in your garden, allotment or smallholding, it is wise to spend some time planning, with a pencil and paper, where each group of plants will grow in their first year, and where and when moving will take place in subsequent years.

Draw out a rough layout of your garden, with each bed plotted out and marked with its dimensions. Cut another piece of paper into smaller labels, each representing a different crop family. It can help to label each using a different colour to make it easier to visualise the different plant types in your garden. Once each plant type is established, spend some time working out a system in which they can be moved each season in a logical manner- often left to right, right to left, clockwise or anti-clockwise works best. Take photos of your finished plans so you remember them when it comes to putting them into action.

Don’t expect immediate results- there is only so much you can work out from planning on paper alone. A great deal of learning about which combinations will come from putting your plans into action, and improvising as you go along.

 Examples of good crop rotation layouts

 It can often be helpful to find an example of efficient crop rotation layouts to base the layout of your own garden, allotment or smallholding on. You can see a good example of an effective crop rotation layouts, as well as other tips here.

 Image sourced: London Permaculture

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