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Crop Rotation

Find out more about the importance of crop rotation

Crop Rotation

grow your own | vegetables

Crop rotation is vital for the long term success in growing your own vegetables. The basic principle is that specific groups of vegetables are grown on a different piece of land each year, not returning to the same location for at least three or four years.

Crop Rotation

Soil Fertility

Different crops require different nutrients, therefore if you grow the same vegetables on the same piece of land every year, those vital nutrients are used up and not replaced. In time the soil can no longer feed crops what they need and so their growth will be stunted and yields will fall. If crops are rotated, the soil has a chance to replenish.

Controlling Weeds

Some crops grow poorly if they have to compete with weeds, but others (such as potatoes) actually suppress weeds. Therefore, the crop which is planted the year after potatoes will have to compete with far fewer weeds than it would if the weeds had had a chance to take hold during the previous year.

Diseases and Pests

Pests and Diseases

Most diseases and pests attack specific groups of plants - e.g. the carrot fly. If crops are rotated then the build-up of pests and diseases is prevented and the life-cycle of them is broken (since they will die in the following three years when they have nothing to attack).

The Structure of the Soil

The soil structure is vital for good growing. By alternating between fibrous-rooted crops and deep-rooted crops, the soil structure is improved year on year helping the crops get to the nutrients they require and in building healthy roots.

The Crop Families

Brassicas - includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, and swede.
Onions - includes onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic.
Potato Family - includes potatoes and tomatoes. To grow well, these crops need a lot of organic matter in the soil, but they also supress weeds and break up the soil structure.
Legumes - includes peas and most beans. These plants take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil while not needing nitrogen-rich soil themselves. Brassicas and potatoes like nitrogen-rich soil and so should be planted in a spot the year after legumes.
Umbellifers - includes the root vegetables carrots, parsnips, and celery. These plants break up the soil.

Other Crops

There are some crops which are susceptible to very few soil-dwelling pests and diseases. These crops can be planted wherever space permits in the rotation (but should still not be planted in the same location every year). Included in this list are aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers, fennel, french and runner beans, lettuces, peppers, pumpkins and other squashes, and sweet corn.

Crop Rotation Order

Allotment plot with separate beds for annual crop rotation

The optimal order for crop rotation is as follows:

Onions -> Potato Family -> Umbellifers -> Brassicas -> Legumes

Therefore the vegetable plot should be divided into five equal sections (assuming you are planning to grow all five families of crops). An additional section can be added so that a green manure can be planted in each section once every five years to add nutrients to the soil and to give it a rest.

If in year one, onions and garlic are grown in one section, then the following year potatoes or tomatoes should be grown in that section (with onions and garlic being grown in the section in which peas and beans were grown the previous year etc.

Shopping List

Here are some useful links to relevant products:
crop rotation

Article Published: 09:08, 5th Jul 2008

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