Crop rotation is one of those things we all know we should do, but the practicalities get in the way. Either the garden is too small, the variety of vegetables too large or, more likely, it just seems too complicated.
I tend to take the easiest way out. As a pathological succession planter, I mix up my plants throughout the garden. If a spot of soil is vacant, I will tuck something into it.
While I like to think that moving plants around as I succession plant passes as rotation, I know it still leaves my garden susceptible to a buildup of diseases. So if a problem does raise its ugly head, like carrot maggots or early blight, I up my game.
Most rotation plans are grouped by family, since pests and diseases often favor all the relatives in a family. Cabbage worms also love broccoli and kale. Early blight is not just a concern for tomatoes and potatoes, it can affect their cousins, eggplants and peppers, too. But the length of time and distance of separation for this type of rotation can be impractical for small backyard vegetable gardens. Who can find a new spot to grow tomatoes every year for 6 to 10 years?
Lazy Simplified Approach
This is a simplified rotation plan I use in my garden. (This is from my book, Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast, but it is applicable wherever you garden.) It’s much easier than juggling families, but still offers the benefits of preventing pest build-up and soil depletion – group your plants by the part of the plant you eat. This also roughly organizes them by their feeding requirements: leafy vegetables (nitrogen), fruiting plants (phosphorous), root crops (potassium), and legumes, vegetables in the same family as beans and peas, which add nitrogen to the soil.
Grouping plants with similar nutrient needs together makes it simple to add fertilizer or amendments. You even get the bonus of having nitrogen fixing legumes beef up the soil for the following year’s nitrogen gobbling leafy vegetables. Here’s a rough breakdown of the groupings for rotation.
|[Corn is usually included here, because it is a heavy nitrogen user.]|