Why Vegetable Rotation is Key for Organic Gardening

Vegetable rotation probably never crosses the mind of the average home gardener. But rotating crops isn't just for the big agriculture players: it can also benefit small home gardens as well. For organic gardeners, vegetable rotation is especially important because it can help eliminate the need for fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides by maintaining balance in the soil.

Why Vegetable Rotation is Needed

Vegetables are divided into families that use soil in similar ways. Plants in the same family are prone to the same diseases and pests, both of which can remain in the soil for long periods of time, even after the plants have been removed.

If you plant similar vegetables in the same place season after season, they have a higher chance of developing the same diseases and pest infestations, often more severely with each planting. Vegetables in the same family also use nutrients in similar ways, which can deplete nutrients from the soil if they aren’t rotated. By rotating crops, you can replenish the soil every year.

Vegetable Families

Becoming familiar with the basic vegetable families can help you decide how to rotate the plants in your vegetable garden. There are many interpretations how vegetable families should be grouped, but the concept is basically the same. Here is a general list of the vegetable family groups:

  • Beetroot Family (beets, chards, spinach)
  • Potato Family (potato, tomato, pepper)
  • Parsley Family (carrots, celery, parsley)
  • Marrow Family (cucumber, melon, squash, pumpkin)
  • Legume Family (peas, clover, alfalfa, beans)
  • Daisy Family (lettuce, artichoke)
  • Lily Family (garlic, onion, leek, scallions)
  • Mustard Family (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower)
  • Crucifer Family (radishes, turnips, collards)
  • Grass Family (rye, sweet corn)

Planning Your Vegetable Rotation

To plan your vegetable garden rotation, an informal sketch or list will do. Here are some tips to remember:

  • Divide your garden into at least four or five sections and keep track of where you plant vegetables from the various family groups. 
  • Cycle your vegetables so crops from the same family aren’t grown in the same soil for at least three years. 
  • Having several sections in your garden bed will help you keep track of where you should plant each crop every year.

When rotating your vegetables, there are a few more suggestions you can follow to ensure the best growth from your plants:

  • Alternate plants with shallow roots and those with deeper root systems to keep soil loose and healthy. 
  • You can plant vegetables from the grass family the season before you plant veggies like tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes to prevent root nematodes. 
  • Some vegetables such as sweet corn leave a heavy amount of  organic debris at the end of the season. Plant vine crops like pumpkin or winter squash to break up the excess organic matter.

Rotating the plants in your garden may take a little extra planning, but in the end it will be worth the time and effort. It’s the natural way to reduce the use of chemicals in the vegetable garden while producing superior plants.

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Please note: I wrote this post while participating in the Sowing Millions Project by Real Food Media on behalf of Seeds of Change. I did get some free goodies (i.e. seeds!), but of course my thoughts and opinions are my own and not those of Real Food Media or Seeds of Change.

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