Crop rotation is important to increase the fertility of your soil, and is one of the easiest and natural ways to cut down on pests. A three year cycle should be adequate for most backyard gardeners, but some would recommend up to a 7 year rotation rate.
Categorizing your crops into families will be important, as it is the families of crops that need to be rotated, not just individual varieties. Using this method, related crops are not planted in the same location year after year and allows a healthy balance of nutrients, microorganisms and organic matter. If you don’t follow a crop rotation schedule, you will likely suffer from a reduced yield, as the ideal natural balance becomes upset.
Repeated studies have shown crop rotation has a significant improvement in yields, and reduced pest and disease-related problems. Because most gardeners do not allocate equal space to each of the families, a simple rotation plan for the crops you plant may not be adequate. You may for example need a large percentage of your space for plants from the tomato group, and only a little bit for the spinach group. In devising your plan, it may be helpful to divide your garden up into 3 or 4 sections and figure out how to fit each of the families into one of the sections. The use of a cover crop may be helpful in improving soil fertility and should be considered to work into your crop rotation.
The 9 common vegetable garden families
- Cabbage family – cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabaga, kohlrabi, and other similar leafy greens.
- Carrot family – carrots, celery, parsley, and parsnips.
- Cucumber family – cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds.
- Grass family – corn, wheat, oats, and rye.
- Onion family – onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots.
- Pea family – peas and beans.
- Spinach family – spinach, beets, chard.
- Sunflower family – sunflowers, lettuce, and related leafy greens
- Tomato family – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes.