Use Vegetable Families to Design The Ideal Crop Rotation System
Rotate your vegetable crops in the garden every three or four years by switching up which families of plants you grow in different areas. I have a potato patch wedged between a raised bed and the street curb in my urban community garden. After three years of potato growing in that area, It will be time to switch to kale or beans to give the soil a break by growing a different type of plant. Rotating crops helps to break up the cycles of disease and insects that inhabit every garden.
A great way to understand the needs of the vegetable garden is to know the botanical families that veggies belong to. Generally speaking, vegetables from the same family like the same growing conditions and are also susceptible to the the same pests and diseases. For example, the Solanum family (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants) are prone to blight. Solanums also all thrive in slightly acidic soil.
Alliums (chives, onions, garlic and leeks) need consistently moist soil all season long.
Brassicas (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage) prefer fertile soil enriched with aged compost. They all attract the North American Cabbage Moth, that lays its eggs on the underside of leaves. The eggs turn into caterpillars and then the damage begins! Caterpillars eat large holes in the leaves of your plants. Keep an eye on the leaf undersides and get rid of any eggs you see to ward off this pest from the onset.
Curcubits (melon, cucumber, squash) thrive during the hot summer months but require rich, evenly moist soil.
Grow plants from different vegetable families in specific areas of your garden so you can easily switch up their location each year of planting.
You can get the most out of your soil by switching up the types of plants grown during successive years. Plants with big roots use different soil nutrients than those with big leafy tops. By rotating crops you can maximize your soil’s productivity and health.
During a recent farm day at a family run farm in Delta, BC we had the privilege of being taken on a tour by the land owner himself, an experienced farmer implements many ecological practices on his farm. He grows a strawberry field every year for all of us city folk to come and pick fresh berries ourselves. He told us that he alternates strawberries with daikon radishes periodically. The strawberries tend to compact the soil, while the daikon root vegetable’s long root system is the natural antidote to soil compaction.
Here is an example of a three year Crop Rotation you can use in your garden:
Year 1: Brassicas, lettuce, spinach
Year 2: Beans, onions, squash, peas
Year 3: carrots, beets, potatoes, tomatoes
At the end of the third year, in the fall, add lime and compost to the soil. Plant a cover Crop such as buckwheat. Then in spring, return to Year 1 and rotate your planting areas according to your own planting plan within the garden.