Crop rotation and succession planting are two interrelated topics that all gardeners should think about.
Crop rotation means not planting from the same plant family in the same bed, year after year. It entails a bit of advance planning, but it’s something we should do every year. Why?
Each vegetable crop needs specific nutrients – some are heavy feeders while others are light feeders – and each plant family is more susceptible to certain diseases and insects than others. By rotating the location where the members of a plant family are grown each year, you will have healthier plants.
Here is a list of the major vegetable plant families to help you plan for next year:
Melons, cucumbers, and summer and winter squash all are members of the cucurbit family. Onions, leeks and garlic are members of the lily family. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts belong to the cabbage family. Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants are members of the nightshade family. Peas and beans are legumes and beets, Swiss chard and spinach belong to the beet family. Lettuce is in the sunflower family.
To make crop rotation easier, keep good notes. Every year when I’m planning my garden, I grab the records from the previous four years. One by one, as I’m deciding which bed to plant a crop in, I look to see which plant families have been grown in each bed. For example, when deciding where to grow tomato plants, I find a bed that has not been planted in the past four years with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes or eggplants. It might sound tedious, but it’s worth the effort.
I do this for two reasons. First, tomato plants are heavy feeders, so I want to make sure I don’t grow a heavy feeder in the same bed in subsequent years. Root crops are light feeders so they would be a good candidate for a bed that had tomato plants in it the previous year. Second, Colorado potato beetles are not particular about munching on potato plants. They are perfectly content to eat any plant in the nightshade family, so by rotating my crops based on plant families, I can thwart them.
Small gardens can make crop rotation difficult, so try growing different varieties of each crop every year instead.
The idea behind succession planting is to keep every square inch of gardening space productive throughout the growing season. What this means is that once you harvest a particular crop – spinach, for example – you should turn over the soil in that bed, add amendments as necessary and replant the bed with something that isn’t a member of the beet family.
To do this, get out a calendar and your seed packets to determine which crops still have enough time to mature by the end of the growing season. Short-season crops include beans, radishes, spinach, scallions and salad greens. But as you are deciding on what to replant, remember the crop rotation concepts outlined above. This means not replanting a bed with the same crop. Instead, sow something from another plant family.
Many gardeners plant successions of bush beans so they don’t have to harvest and process all of the beans at the same time. This means planting bean seeds every two to three weeks in different beds early in the season.
By implementing crop rotation and succession planting, your vegetable garden will be healthy and productive.
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