01 May Vegetable Families & Crop Rotation in a Small Garden
Crop rotation means a regular scheme of planting whereby different demands are made on your soil each year. Vegetables vary in their nutritional needs and therefore, deplete the soil in different ways. Growing the same crop in the same place each year creates a deficiency in certain elements due to the plant’s needs. Rotating crops is good for your soil as there is less of a requirement for fertilizer.
In a small garden, I am recommending a four year rotation program. Each year you can have the same crops if you prefer but they will always be in a different location. In the fifth year, you plant whatever you did the first year in the same location and the next four year cycle begins again. Obviously, the larger the garden area, the easier it is to rotate crops. To me, a small space could be created with four raised beds. The sizes can vary but four, 4’X4′ beds would be ideal for this program.
Crop rotation is essential for a good growing program. Many pests and diseases are plant host-specific in that they are attracted to the same plants or plant families. By itself, crop rotation will never guarantee the prevention of disease or pests but it does go a long way in helping create a healthier and better yield. In order to rotate your crops in the proper manner, understanding the various plant families is the first step.
- Amaranthaceae (amaranth family) includes beets, spinach and Swiss chard.
- Amaryllidaceae (onion family) includes garlic, leeks and onions.
- Apiaceae (carrot family) includes carrots, celery, parsley and parsnips.
- Brassicaceae (cole family) includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, kale, mustard, radish and turnips.
- Compositae (sunflower family) includes endive and lettuces.
- Cucurbitaceae (gourd family) includes cucumber, melons, pumpkins, and squash.
- Leguminosae (legume family) includes beans, peas and soybeans.
- Poaceae (grass family) includes corn (and also popcorn).
- Solanaceae (nightshade family) includes eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatillo, and of course, tomatoes.
Most of the plants within a plant family have similar needs, have similar problems and are generally grown in the same manner. Working in a small garden space means that you will probably practice succession planting during the season, planting different things as the season progresses. After the first crop harvest, remove any plant residues, especially diseased material. Bush bean remains can actually be chopped up and left to decompose where they were grown to return nitrogen to the soil.
My example here includes four raised beds but you could use any combination you have to your benefit. Try and keep a record of what you planted where. A simple box diagram in a notebook is all you need and label each box #1, #2, #3 and #4. Also, title the diagram “Year 1” and you have a simple, effective journal.
So for your first year, here is a recommended planting program for each bed. Of course, vary it as you choose with other vegetables that you may want to grow.
- Box #1 Plant Compositae & Solanaceae together. Early lettuce followed by tomatoes.
- Box #2 Plant Brassicaceae & Cucurbitaceae together. Early mustard greens and radishes followed by summer squash.
- Box #3 Apiaceae & Lamiaceae together. Carrots, parsley and early cilantro. Add basil later in the season when the weather warms up.
- Box #4 Amaranthaceae & Leguminosae together. Spinach planted early, followed by bush beans.
If your raised beds are larger than 4X4 as in this example, simply partition them off with dividers so that the soil is separated. In a larger garden area just divide your space into four equal quadrants and use the same principles.
Each year, rotate the crops in a clockwise fashion. Also, try to use a vertical trellis whenever possible to save space. This situation works great for cucumbers, melons and summer squash. Also, be on the lookout for varieties that are space efficient. They work extremely well when your space is limited.
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