I’m sure most of us gardeners have heard someone say, “make sure you rotate your crops.” What? Why is crop rotation such a big deal, and does it really matter? Yes, I think it does matter. Plants in the same family are genetically similar and share many of the same characteristics. Because of this, they lend themselves to being susceptible to similar pests, diseases and deplete the soil of many of the same nutrients.
In order to better understand how to rotate crops it’s important to know the different plant families.
Below are the most important families for us gardeners.
Amaryllicaceae (allium/onion family) -onions, garlic, chives, leeks, scallion
Chenapodiaceae (beetroot/goosefoot family) – beets, spinach, swiss chard
Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (carrot/parsley family) – carrots, parsnip, dill, parsley, cilantro
Brassicaceae (cabbage/mustard family) – horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, brussels sprouts, turnips, chinese cabbage, radish, mustard, collards, watercress, bok choi, rutabaga
Curcurbitaceae (cucurbit family)- cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, melons, gourds
Fabaceae or Leguminosae (pea/bean family) – beans, peas, soybean, peanuts, cow peas, lentils, fava bean
Asteraceae or Compositae (daisy/lettuce family) – lettuce, endive, sunflower, artichoke
Solanaceae (potato/nightshade family) – tomato. potato, pepper (chile and bell) , eggplant, tomatillo
Equally important to remember is, each vegetable comes with different nutrient requirements. They vary from heavy feeders, light feeders, and soil builders.
Heavy feeders are: corn, tomatoes, beets, cabbage family crops (broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radish), celery, cucumber, endive, lettuce, parsley, pumpkin, cucumber, squashes, rhubarb, spinach
Light feeders are: root crops (carrot, garlic, leeks, onion, parsnip, potato, rutabaga, shallot, turnip), bulbs, herbs, mustard, pepper, chard
Soil builders are: alfalfa, beans, clover, peas
Don’t let all this information intimidate you. Let’s just keep it simple. Divide your garden into four sections. If your garden is small don’t worry, just divide what you have. To accomodate for the four rotations we will group families. You will want to rotate a heavy feeding family, followed by a light feeding family, followed by heavy feeding family, followed by a soil builder. An example of this would be the potato/nightshade family, followed by an onion family or a beetroot family or a carrot family, followed by lettuce family or a cabbage family or cucurbit family, followed by the pea/bean family. This is just one suggestion, do what works best for you. Nowhere is it written that if you do not practice crop rotation your garden will fail. That being said, when gardening organically, doing all we can to prevent pests, disease, and soil depletion is always in our best interest.