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Beginners section

Growing Vegetables – Crop Rotation

Growing Vegetables places more strain on a piece of land than flowering plants or shrubs because we remove nutrients every time we harvest a crop. Vegetables are also relatively hungry plants requiring a lot of nutrients to give you the crop you’re expecting.

Crop rotation is a subject that puts some new gardeners off. It really isn’t difficult and is vitally important to the health of your vegetable garden. The idea is not to grow a crop in the same place year after year to prevent disease and nutrition problems in the garden. It requires a little planning at first but once you’ve got the basics you’ll find it a breeze. You’ll need to split your crops into 5 basic groups and they are:

Brassicas:
Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Calabrese, Broccoli, Kale, Kohl-Rabi, Oriental Greens, Radish, Swede and turnips.

Legumes:
Peas, Broad Beans, French Beans, Runner Beans.

Onions:
Onions, Garlic, Shallots, Leeks.

Potato Family:
Potato, Tomato, Pepper, Aubergine.

Roots:
Beetroot, Carrot, Celeriac, Celery, Florence Fennel, Parsley, Parsnip and all other root crops except turnips and swede which are in the brassica section.

So why should I do it?

Disease Prevention: The main reason to rotate crops is to prevent the spread of plant disease. Disease organisms can build up over time, resulting in eventual crop failure. Rotating crops keeps these organisms in check.

Insect Control: Crop rotation also helps reduce insect infestations.

Nutrient Balance: Different families of plants require different nutrients. By rotating your crops, you keep the soil from being depleted and can target soil amendments to keep your garden balanced.

Nutrient Enhancement: Some plants actually enhance the soil, so rotating them through the garden can produce free organic soil conditioning.

What do I do?

Divide your growing space into roughly equal sections. I’m including an example of a four year rotation and for this we’ll split the garden into four sections. Move each section of the plot a step forward every year so that, for example, brassicas follow legumes, onions and roots, legumes, onions and roots follow potatoes and potatoes follow brassicas.

Year one
Section one: Legumes
Section two: Brassicas
Section three: Potatoes
Section four: Onions and roots

Year two
Section one: Brassicas
Section two: Potatoes
Section three: Onions and roots
Section four: Legumes

Year three
Section one: Potatoes
Section two: Onions and roots
Section three: Legumes
Section four: Brassicas

Year four
Section one: Onions and roots
Section two: Legumes
Section three: Brassicas
Section four: Potatoes

You will notice that the Brassicas (Cabbage family) follow the Legumes (Peas and beans), this is because Legumes actually take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. The roots are then dug into the soil to release the nitrogen which is good for leafy crops like cabbage etc….
The Legumes then follow the roots as legumes like a loose soil which the root crops have helped you break up. It’s all part of a very simple and sensible cycle.
It’s important too, for example if you get clubroot, a brassica disease, you will have it in the garden for up to 9 years. That’s 9 years you can’t grow cabbage!

So, if you don’t do it already, give it a go. It’s actually very handy to give you a starting framework to your garden. Once you have your plots laid out your choice of crops and varieties seem to fall effortlessly into place. It’s an ancient system built on an understanding of the importance of good soil, your vegetable gardens’ life force. Your vegetables will love you for it!


18 comments
  1. Tara Craig

    Hello. I am trying to figure if I can put a second crop of brassicas in the same bed. I have harvested an early cabbage. I would now like to plant out some kale in the same bed where the cabbage was. Is this ok? Thanks

  2. Ella Fitzbag

    Don’t follow with a vegetable of the same family. The crop will have depleted the soil of needed nutrients. The resistance to disease and pests will have weakened; I’ve seen evidence of pest eggs and The soil after the first crop will be ready for crop that follows brassicas/cruciferous vegetables.with the nutrition and pest resistance that your first brassicas plants left behind. This may not be scientific but it’s what I’ve been doing for 12 years. I don’t use commercial pesticides herbicides fertilizers or compost. I DIY those. Good luck!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Stuart
      I am not aware of any issue with legumes following onions, in fact, in three year rotations legumes and onions are often grouped together. Can you let me know what problem has been reported with this pairing?
      Andrew

  3. Stuart

    Hi Andrew, I will try and find the (online)article and forward it to you if I do. Something to do with allium roots breaking off in soil when harvested and harbouring disease ? Anyway, if you’re happy so am I !. Just received your blog on succession cropping brilliant ! and really timely as I was just trying to work out my own patch.
    Stuart

    1. Andrew

      Hi Stuart
      Thanks, I would be interested to hear what the issue might be. Perhaps I have been lucky but I have had not had any issues in my garden. That’s great that the succession growing blog arrived at the right time, I hope it is helpful. Have a great season!
      Andrew

  4. Alan Parkinson

    Hi Andrew
    I thought I understood crop rotation as like you suggested with a 3 yr rotation onions and legume can share the same bed. I have done that for years yet as a four year rotation with Potatoes, legume/onions/garlic etc, roots & brassica in separate sections. I then looked up the RHS 4 yr plan and yours (agree with each other) that totally disagree with olde garden books. There are several published books and online sources that disagree to the extent that makes you want to run for the hills! May I ask where is the definitive answer? With best wishes Alan

    1. Andrew

      Hi Alan. I wouldn’t stress too much about it, there is no definite answer. If your method is working for you keep doing it. Crop rotation makes good sense and, while it should also be observed in the vegetable garden, it does not need to be rigidly followed. My own rotations are fluid and don’t stick to a strict 3 or 4 year plan; crops always move around but the intervals can vary in length depending on how the cards fall. As long as you keep moving crops around you are unlikely to encounter any serious problems especially if you keep you soil well fed.

  5. Stuart

    Hello again Andrew !
    re having potatoes follow Brassica which follow legumes.
    I always thought you add lime for brassica, but of course potatoes don’t like lime. When do you suggest adding lime for brassica ?
    Regards Stuart

    1. Andrew

      Hi Stuart. Here’s the secret: apply generous dressings of well rotted compost to the garden every year to build a highly fertile, free draining soil. You will not need to add lime or anything else and can rotate with abandon. You can tie yourself in knots with this, just focus on building your soil. I have never added lime to my garden and grow brassicas to rival anything I have seen elsewhere. It’s all about the soil.
      Andrew

  6. Jackie

    I have only ever used lime on my soil once in 27 years. That was when I first grew brassicas as the soil had not be used as a growing medium before so was still quite poor and not had the benefit of improving by laying compost. And more importantly never get stressed out about adding stuff, if you add compost every year from your own compost bin the satisfaction is huge. As long as you have vegetables you can eat don’t worry too much.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Jane, they’re a bit of a wildcard. Squashes are a family of their own and not prone to may soil borne pests and diseases. Also, because they take up so much space a lot of people tend to grow them in the same space every year. Hope this helps!

  7. Mike McNamara

    Great site, I’ve been using a four year plan for past two years and feeding when needed, but need to plan to build up the soil a bit better so my question is… When you come to the end of the current year and you are ready to rotate, what should go on ground after the crops you have taken out.

    For example when Year two is over for Section one: Brassicas, Section two: Potatoes, Section three: Onions and roots, Section four: Legumes. What needs to go on these sections ready for year three?

    Is it just manure/compost/lime etc. Does anyone have a list for this?

    Many thanks for any tips.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Mike, good question. The easiest solution is to always add 4-5cm fo well rotted garden compost to all sections of the garden. All crops need a fertile soil so a blanket approach across the garden is best.

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