We are often asked about the best ways to grow vegetables and ensure the health of the soil. And the answer is Crop Rotation - one of the most important techniques for maintaining the health of the soil and maximizing your vegetable harvest. In this blog post, we share the benefits of crop rotation and how to do this in your home vegetable garden or allotment.
Why Rotate Crops?
Crop rotation is an essential technique used by gardeners and farmers to maintain the health of the soil without using tons of chemicals. When you grow the same crop in the same place year after year, it depletes the soil of the nutrients normally has. This can lead to a decrease in yield, an increase in pests and diseases, and poor soil structure. Crop rotation helps to prevent these problems by rotating crops in different areas of the garden, allowing the soil to recover and replenish the nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. it is a 'must do' if you want to garden organically.
In addition to improving soil health, crop rotation also helps to control pests and diseases. Many pests and diseases are specific to certain plants, so by rotating crops, you can break the cycle and reduce the risk of an outbreak.
The Eight Most Common Vegetables Grown in the UK
These are the eight most common vegetables grown by amateur gardeners in the UK. These vegetables are popular because they are relatively easy to grow, and they can be grown in small spaces such as containers or raised beds.
All fruit and vegetables have a classification or 'family' that they belong to. So if you don't see the vegetable you want to grow here then you can replace it with something from the same family and the rotation will still work.
How to Rotate Crops in a Vegetable Garden
Here is our step by step guide for how to rotate crops in a vegetable garden.
Step 1: Divide Your Garden into Sections
The first step in crop rotation is to divide your garden or plot into sections. You can do this by using stakes or string to mark off each section. The number of sections you need will depend on the size of your garden and the number of crops you plan to grow but 4 sections usually works.
You can even do this by creating raised beds for each of your groups of veg
Step 2: Choose Your Crops
Next, choose the crops you want to grow. As we mentioned earlier, it's important to rotate crops to maintain soil health and prevent pest and disease problems. This means that each section of your garden should be planted with a different family of vegetables each year.
Always remember to grow what you and your family like to eat though. You definitely don't have to grow aubergines just to tick a box!
Step 3: Group Vegetables by Family
Vegetables are grouped by family based on their nutrient and soil requirements. Here are the most common vegetable families:
- Brassicas: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale
- Legumes: beans, peas
- Nightshades: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants
- Alliums: onions, garlic, leeks
- Root vegetables: carrots, beets, radishes, potatoes
- Cucurbits: cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes
- Asteraceae: lettuce, daisies, sunflowers
If you group your vegetables by family it is easier to ensure that you don't plant the same family in the same section of the garden year after year.
Three Key Factors when planning Crop Rotation
Brassicas follow legumes: Sow crops such as kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflowers (Brassicas) in soil previously used for beans and peas (Legumes).
Legumes are nitrogen-fixing plants which means they convert nitrogen gas in the air into a form of nitrogen that is usable by plants (made possible by bacteria that live in the roots of legumes). When legume roots decompose in the soil, they release nitrogen, which is then available for other plants to use.
Brassicas, on the other hand, are heavy feeders and require large amounts of nitrogen, which they take up from the soil. By planting brassicas after legumes, you are taking advantage of the nitrogen that the legumes have added to the soil.
As an aside, potatoes also love nitrogen-rich soil, but should not be planted alongside brassicas as they like different pH levels. Solve this by using Potato planters. Regardless of your garden size, the easiest way to grow potatoes is in containers - far less digging involved!
Very rich soil and roots don't mix.
If you plant root vegetables where the soil has been heavily fertilised you will get loads of lovely lush green foliage. Great, right??
Well, no! When you dig up your plant the edible parts will be very disappointing. That is why you sow roots in an area which has housed nutrient demanding crops (such as brassicas) the previous year.
Some Vegetables aren't so fussy
There are some vegetables that aren't too fussy. So vegetables such as sweetcorn, lettuce, courgettes, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash and radishes can be planted anywhere you have space in the rotation plan.
Consider your space in 3D though and plant sprawling ground plants like pumpkins where they can prevent water loss around the roots of tall plants like climbing beans as evidenced in the Three Sisters Planting Method
Still try and move them round each year though to avoid any potential pest or disease issues.
Step 4: Plan Your Crop Rotation
Once you've grouped your vegetables by family, you can begin planning your four year crop rotation. Here is an example schedule. You can also rotate over 3 years rather than 4 if you are planting a smaller selection of vegetables.
: Add compost to enrich the soil then plant potatoes and tomatoes (Solanaceae). When crop has finished sow onions or leeks (Allium) for an overwinter crop.
: Sow parsnips, carrot, parsley (Umbelliferae). Fill gaps with lettuce and follow with a soil-enriching green manure
Section 3: This is where your brassicas go. Plant cabbage, kale and rocket (Brassicas) during the summer and follow with winter cabbage and Brussels sprouts in winter.
Section 4: If this is your second year, harvest the onions or leeks grown over winter. Then sow peas and beans (legumes). When harvest has finished, add lime to the soil for brassicas which will move from area three to occupy the space next.
The following year just move everything round one spot.
Year 2: 1: Legume, 2: Tomatoes 3: Carrots 4: Brassicas
Year 3: 1: Brassicas 2; Legumes 3; Tomatoes 4: Carrots
Year 4: 1: Carrots 2: Brassicas 3: Legumes 4: Tomatoes
Then go round again...
Year 1: 1: Tomatoes 2: Carrots 3: Brassicas 4: Legumes
We hope these gardening tips help you to keep your soil in tip top shape and grow masses of home grown vegetables.