A Guide to Crop Rotation – Growing a productive garden

This post was most recently updated on May 26th, 2020

A good gardening principle called ‘crop rotation’ suggests that you should rotate your annual crops each year to avoid growing the same crop in the same area year after year.

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Crop rotation prevents the nutrients becoming depleted in each area as each type of crop needs different nutrition. It also helps reduce the impact of bugs and diseases.

Obviously if you are growing perennial (long life, over a few years) plants you will not be moving these each year. I also recommend growing invasive plants in their own bed like yams (oca) Jerusalem artichoke and mint. Otherwise you will have them EVERYWHERE.

Vegetable Garden Plan for Crop Rotation

When you are planting your vegetable garden, having a planting plan written down somewhere is really handy for forward planning.

You can make a note of of the dates you plant crops and their varieties, which allows you to estimate when crops will be finished and plan what you will replace them with following the crop rotation process.

Crop rotation can be carried out in a four season cycle, or more if you prefer. A minimum of three years is recommended. Certain vegetables are grouped together into different sections of the vegetable patch, and these groups are then rotated each season of the year.

Simply divide your current garden into 3-6 plots of similar size and label them years 1-whatever number you have.

Perennial vegetables such as soft fruit, rhubarb, asparagus and globe artichoke aren’t replanted each year, so they may need their own dedicated bed.

Crop Rotation Rules

As a general rule brassicas follow legumes: Sow crops such as cabbage, cauliflower and kale on soil previously used for beans and peas. The legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, and leafy greens benefit from the nutrient-rich conditions created.

Very rich soil and roots don’t mix: Avoid planting root vegetables on areas which have been heavily fertilized, as this will cause lush foliage at the expense of the edible parts of the plant.

In a rotation system, crops are grouped together according to preferred soil type, required nutrients and the types of pests and diseases that threaten them as well as considering good plant companions.

Different guides will group crops together differently, but here are some common group options.

6 Bed crop rotation might contain one bed of each of the following:

Potato family: e.g. potato, tomato, eggplant, capsicum. (eggplant, capsicum and chillies need a glass house down south)
Cucurbits: e.g. courgette, cucumber, pumpkin, squash.
Legumes: e.g. peas, beans.
Brassicas and salads: e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, spinach, lettuce, silverbeet.
Onion family: e.g. onions, garlic, leeks, shallot.
Root vegetables: e.g. carrots, beetroot, parsnip

Generally you get your leafy greens to follow your nitrogen fixing legumes. Fertilize cucurbits heavily, brassica, potatoes and leafy greens moderately, onion family lightly and root crops not at all.

The residual nutrients from fertilizing the previous crop is usually enough for carrot/root crops and peas and beans.

4 Bed crop rotation might contain one bed of each of the following:

Bed 1: Potatoes, kumara, yams, tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, pumpkins and courgettes.
Bed 2: Peas, beans, celery.
Bed 3: Brassicas and salads: e.g. cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, silverbeet, mizuna and rocket.
Bed 4: Carrots, onions, beetroot, parsnip.

4 Bed Garden Rotation Plan:

YEAR ONE

BED 1 – Manure heavily and plant potatoes, yams, tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, pumpkins and courgettes.
BED 2 – Manure lightly and plant peas, beans, celery.
BED 3 – Manure lightly and plant brassicas and salads
BED 4 – No manure added and plant carrots, onions, beetroot, parsnip.

YEAR TWO – move all the beds up one space

BED 1 – Manure lightly and plant peas, beans, celery.
BED 2 – Manure lightly and plant brassicas and salads
BED 3 – No manure added and plant carrots, onions, beetroot, parsnip.
BED 4 – Manure heavily and plant potatoes, kumara, yams, tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, pumpkins and courgettes.

YEAR THREE – move all the beds up one space again

BED 1 – Manure lightly and plant brassicas and salads
BED 2 – No manure added and plant carrots, onions, beetroot, parsnip.
BED 3 – Manure heavily and plant potatoes, kumara, yams, tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, pumpkins and courgettes.
BED 4 – Manure lightly and plant peas, beans, celery.

YEAR FOUR – move all the beds up one space again

BED 1 – No manure added and plant carrots, onions, beetroot, parsnip.
BED 2 – Manure heavily and plant potatoes, kumara, yams, tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, pumpkins and courgettes.
BED 3 – Manure lightly and plant peas, beans, celery.
BED 4 – Manure lightly and plant brassicas and salads

Year 5 you are back to the beginning again.

This technique can be adapted to fit how many beds you do have to rotate with. They are not a hard and fast rule and sometimes you have seedlings that just need to go in the ground and you just gotta put them in whichever bed has space. Don’t panic, it will all be OK.

You should check out our post on succession gardening for getting more out of your garden space that you already have.

We also have a free interactive succession garden planning spreadsheet that you can access by signing up to our newsletter!

Sign up here and you will be sent an email with the link to make a copy of your own

For more information on companion planting read here.

For more information about when to plant and harvest different crops read here.

If you would like help getting the most out of your garden, I would love to help you, find out more here

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For further reading, I also recommend all of these books. I own every one of them and they are amazing resources!

 

 

 

 

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Crop rotation is a simple concept often made difficult. With a good permaculture crop rotation system you will develop a productive garden.

 

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