Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to guide you through Growing Your Own Food in Canada: planning, planting, maintaining, harvesting and putting your garden to bed for winter. This week, Redawna shares the benefits of crop rotation and provides a guide to implementing this practice.
Even though we’re in the middle of winter, it isn’t too early to start planning next season’s garden. It’s always good to have a plan heading into the season, especially if you’re planning on starting seeds early indoors under lights. Certain seeds need an extra-long start time, such as celery and petunias, so it’s important to plan accordingly.
Depending on what you’re growing and where you’re gardening, it can be beneficial to have an extra month or two of growing time to have a successful harvest in areas where the garden season is a bit shorter. Don’t know how long your growing season is? You can start here!
Crop Rotation for Soil Health and Higher Yields
We know there are garden practices for a lush garden such as composting and mulching that in turn increase the harvest and health of the soil. Another of those practices is crop rotation. In a vegetable garden, crop rotation involves changing the planting location of vegetables within the garden each season.
This practice improves soil quality, reduces issues with soil-borne diseases and helps manage pests. Plants not only take nutrients out of the soil but others also add nutrients back into the soil, so it’s good to mix up the placement of those vegetables in the garden so the soil doesn’t become depleted and has a chance to replenish.
We can take advantage of plant placement to add back to the soil with an easy system of rotating where we place plants from year to year. This is where having a garden master plan is handy and essential in the planning of vegetable gardens. It’s the easiest way to keep track of what was planted where over the years. I like to make quick diagrams of my garden yearly so I can see the progression of the rotation from year to year.
Grouping Plants for Crop Rotation
The easiest way to plan your rotation is to group plants that belong to the same family into four groups. The first is legumes, which includes peas, lima beans, beans and edamame. The second grouping is root, and it includes onions, turnips, carrots, garlic, beets and radishes. The third group is leaf, which contains lettuce, greens like kale and spinach, herbs, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. The final grouping is fruits, including cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, melons and potatoes.
Now you’re saying, “But a potato is a root vegetable.” Yes, it is. But it’s also a nightshade plant and encounters the same issues that tomatoes have so it goes into the fruit group when we’re talking crop rotation.
The four families for vegetable crop rotation groupings are:
Legumes: peas, beans, lima beans, edamame
Root: beets, turnips, carrots, radishes, onions, garlic, celery
Leaf: lettuce, greens, spinach, kale, herbs, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
Fruit: cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, melons, potatoes
Combatting Insect Damage and Soil-Borne Diseases
Vegetable insect pests feed on similar plants and members of the same plant family. An example is an insect pest that attacks and eats cabbage, and lays its eggs before it dies. If a member of the cabbage family is planted in the same spot the next year, the eggs of the insect will hatch and the babies will find the exact food they need to continue their life cycle.
Soil borne diseases also can be hosted by specific plants. Removing host plants or alternating unrelated plants into the garden can break the cycle of pests and disease. It is suggested you create a four-year rotation plan to break the cycle of soil-borne diseases.
A Visual Guide to Crop Rotation
The handy visual below breaks crop rotation down into easy-to-do steps.
The top row is year one. The second row is year two and shows where each group is planted in the second year. Row three again is year three and shows where each group is planted in the third year. The fourth row illustrates where each group is planted in its fourth year. At year five you begin the rotation again.
- Grow Your Own Food: Winter in the Garden
- Grow Your Own Food: Choosing Seeds
- Grow Your Own Food: Starting Seeds Indoors
Grow Your Own Food is written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.