Starting to use crop rotation in your garden, allotment or smallholding can be daunting. You know that rotating your crops yearly or seasonally helps to maintain good levels of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, and helps to ward off microbial diseases and pests. You also know that certain crops thrive when planted in soil which has previously housed a different family of plants. But working it all out and putting into practice can be a logistical nightmare. Follow these tips for an effective crop rotation layout and use them as a starting point when setting up your own rotational system.
Deciding which plants should follow which, per bed, can be difficult when starting out using crop rotation in your garden, and it can start to feel like the famous riddle with the fox, the chicken and the grain! But once put into practice, crop rotation can start to make more sense. A few pointers to remember:
Rich soil isn’t ideal for root vegetables. Avoid planting crops such as carrot, parsnip and celeriac in heavily fertile soil. Their leaves will grow better but their edible roots will suffer. Sow root vegetables in soil which has previously housed leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, spinach, or anything from the brassica family, which will have used up a high level of rich nutrients in the previous year.
Brassicas thrive in soil previously used by legumes. Brassicas such as cabbage, kale and cauliflower grow especially well in soil which has previously been used to house peas and beans. Legumes help to regulate good levels of nitrogen in the soil, which helps the brassicas to flourish.
Though there are many families of crop, it is possible to group certain families together to make your crop rotation more manageable, as many prefer similar conditions and require similar levels of nitrogen and other nutrients. This can make it easier to implement a 4-bed rotation system with relative ease.
Try the following plant groupings:
Group 1: Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, aubergine, celeriac
Group 2: Broccoli, turnip, Brussels sprout, cabbage and kale
Group 3: Peas and beans
Group 4: Lettuce, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, onion
Having 4 groupings of crops makes crop rotation a little more manageable- just 4 beds are needed in your garden, allotment or smallholding. After the first year’s harvest, group 1 will move to where group 2 were housed, group 2 to where group 3 grew, etc. This is the simplest way to ensure that the soil is nor starved of certain nutrients, and that microbial diseases are unable to develop.
A number of other examples of successful crop combinations are available online and are often planned with a certain climate or soil type in mind.
Image sourced: Leonora Enkingtagsallotmentcrop rotationsmallholding