Grow Your Own Food is an information series on gardening in Canada that will get you started and will help you every step of the way to having the garden you dream of. This series was originally written for and published on Food Bloggers of Canada
Even though it is winter it is not too early to start planning next seasons garden. It is always good to have a plan heading into the season especially if you are planning on starting seeds early indoors under lights. Certain seeds need an extra long start time, such as celery and petunias so it is important to plan accordingly.
Depending on what you are growing and where you are gardening it can be beneficial to have an extra month or 2 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 such as composting and mulching for a lush garden which in turn increases the harvest and the 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 other also add nutrients back into the soil so it is a good to mix up the placement of those vegetables in the garden so that the soil does not become depleted and gives the soil a chance to replenish.
We can take advantage of the 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 is 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 together into 4 groups. The first is legumes, this includes peas, lima beans, beans & edamame. The second grouping is root, this includes onions, turnips, carrots, garlic, beets and radishes. The next group is leaf which contains lettuce, greens like kale and spinach, herbs, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. The final grouping is fruits, included in this group is cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, melons and potatoes.
Now your saying, but a potato is a root vegetable, yes it is. But it is also a night shade plant and encounters the same issues that tomatoes have so it goes into the fruit group when we are talking crop rotation.
The four families we are referring to for our groups for vegetable crop rotation are:
Fruit: cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, egg plant, peppers, melons, potatoes
Leaf: lettuce, greens, spinach, kale, herbs, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
Legumes: peas, beans, lime beans, edamame
Root: beets, turnips, carrots, radishes, onions, garlic, celery
Combating Insect Damage and Soil-Borne Disease
Vegetable insect pests will feed on similar plants and members of the same plant family. An example is an insect pest that attacks and eats cabbage will lay 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 can also can be hosted by specific plants as well. Removing host plants or alternating unrelated plants into the garden can break the cycle of pests and disease. It is suggested you create a 4 year rotation plan to break the cycle of soil borne diseases.
A Visual Guide To Crop Rotation
The handy diagram below breaks it 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 rows where each group is planted in its fourth year. At year 5 you begin the rotation again.