Families on the Move: Rotate Those Veggies for Happier Plants
Crop Rotation in the Home Vegetable Garden
It feels like Spring has finally – at long last! arrived in Ohio. It’s tempting to lose our minds at the garden center and buy plants WE KNOW aren’t ready to go in the ground yet. It’s entirely possible to have another frost or two between now and Mother’s Day (the first Sunday in May). Instead, go ahead and buy a few cold-tolerant pansies, toss some compost around, and take a few minutes to create a crop rotation plan for your vegetable garden this year.
Simply put, crop rotation means you change the location of vegetable families each year. Why? Crop rotation helps to slow the development of plant diseases, reduces damage from insects, and manages soil fertility. This works because plants in the same families are often susceptible to the same diseases and are attractive to many of the same insects. Crop rotation is one of mankind’s oldest agricultural practices—it’s how our ancestors produced crops before the widespread availability of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Because each plant family tends to draw upon the same nutrients, crop rotation also avoids depletion by allowing the soil to replenish itself from other plant families (for example, legumes help restore nitrogen to the soil).
How long should you wait before you can plant, say, cucumbers in the same place? Agricultural experts recommend a minimum of 3 years before you replant members of the same family in a particular area. Here are some of the most common vegetable families for the home gardener; you should see a resemblance if you closely examine the flowers of each family.
Nightshade Family: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant
Cucurbit Family: cucumbers, squash, and melons
Legume Family: peas and beans
Mustard Family: cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, radishes, and rutabagas
Allium Family: onions, garlic, chives, and leeks
Carrot Family: carrots, celery, and parsley
Goosefoot Family: beets, spinach, and Swiss chard
This year, take a moment to divide your garden into 4-6 areas, depending on the types of vegetables you grow. Make a map – a simple drawing is fine – because almost no one can remember what they planted over there three years ago, and because we humans are creatures of habit who want to plant things in the same place. Plan your garden based on plant family and relocate each family to a new area every year, moving them so they don’t come back for 3+ years. Here’s a basic crop rotation chart to get you started. It’s based on a four-plot/four-plant-family garden.
Crop rotation may seem like an extra step of work but in the long run, you’ll have fewer problems with pests and diseases, and better soil fertility. You’ll grow great vegetables and your garden will be healthy and vibrant!
Some additional links for crop rotation information:
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