Crop Rotation for Small Vegetable Gardens

Where many plants grow on small pieces of land, it is best to use the shortest possible crop rotation, namely the three-field one for annual crops, example of such crop rotation:

  • The first year – on land heavily fertilized with manure in autumn: pumpkin, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumber, tomato, leek, celery, spinach
  • Year two – on land fed with compost in spring (in the absence of compost we give manure in autumn): Brussels sprouts, beetroot, onion, garlic, kohlrabi, lettuce; without addition of compost: bean, swede, parsley, radish
  • Third year – peas, soy beans, beans and various vegetables from seedlings

In addition, there should be a separate field for vegetables and berry plants that remain in one place for several years, e.g. rhubarb, sorrel, chives, asparagus, strawberry. Once the crop is finished on a particular site, the crop is moved to another field.

Fore, After and Inter Crops

Forecrop, after-crop and intercrop cultivation allows for a very intensive use of the garden to increase its productivity. Here are some examples: If we plant early white cabbage on the bed in March or April, it will leave the field in July at the latest. After digging up the bed, we can give some catch crop, e.g. spinach, from which we can still harvest a little before winter, and the crop will be full in early spring. After cabbage we can also give some lettuce, and even beans or peas. If we plant the cabbage late in June, we can have early peas, spinach, lettuce, radishes, etc. on the bed before it. In the examples given, the main crop is cabbage. In both cases, during the period when the cabbage is small, we can introduce a catch crop, i.e., sow or plant: fast-growing vegetables such as lettuce or kohlrabi.

Modern Ecological Examples of Crop Rotation

Amateur gardeners, as well as professional growers of vegetables and other plants, e.g. cereals or herbs, still relatively rarely use the most ecological principle in the arrangement of crop rotation, which is to use the latest belonging of plants to botanical families.

The traditional division according to the nutritional needs of plants or parts of plants into root, leaf, fruit, seed and flower dominates. According to this principle, the root plants include potatoes belonging to the solanaceous family as well as beets belonging to the knotweed and carrots belonging to the celery. And the fruit tomatoes of the solanaceous family, the cucumber of the cucumber of the cucumber tree family and the leafy ones include cabbage of the cabbage family, lettuce of the asterisk family and spinach of the comosae family.

Such a rather simplistic approach to crop rotation – although there is no denying that it is very convenient from the point of view of practice and cultivation, especially of the largest fields, but there is a risk that we will make mistakes. As a result, it can happen that there are plants from the same family in the same field year after year. This is best seen in the example when we plant cabbage (leaf) in the first year in the field, followed by radish (root) in the spring in the second year. And if we still plant kohlrabi after it and in autumn we sow mustard as a mustard seed, then we will have four plants of the cabbage family in a row over two years.

The same can happen when we sow beets (root beetroots) after spinach (leaves) when both of them are  from the same family of comositos. In both cases, we can cause biological degradation, which will promote the development of diseases and pest infestations. It is therefore worth paying more attention to the fact that plants belong to botanical families. This is necessary when we exploit the soil more intensively, introducing coordinate crops, after-crops, mid-crops, strip crops.

Examples of Classic Plant Consequences in Perennial Crop Rotation:

1. head cabbages, Brussels sprouts, broccoli (satsumas from seedling or sowing as a forecrop); 2. carrots, parsnips, parsley; 3. peas, broad beans, 4. early potatoes (salad, spinach, endive as an after-crop); 5. strawberries
1. cauliflower, broccoli (radish at the edges); 2. beets; 3. asparagus beans 4. different herbs 5. strawberries
1. brussels sprouts, kale (radish at the edges); 2. onion, celery (lettuce or spinach as a forecrop); 3. corn, tical beans; 4. miscellaneous flowers; 5. Jerusalem artichoke
1. rutabagas, kohlrabi (catch crop, e.g. beans, other beans); 2. lettuces (forecrop), leek beetroot; 3. cereals may be sown with butterfly 4. cucumbers (after the pepper harvest); 5. strawberries
1. radishes, turnips; 2. carrots; 3. beans, broad beans, green manure or flowers, herbs; 4. pumpkins, courgettes, tomatoes (lettuce and spinach may be sown at the edges); 5. Jerusalem artichokes

This example of crop rotation can be modified, e.g. instead of strawberries or Jerusalem artichokes there can be herbs, flowers, also perennials, e.g. roses, rhubarb, asparagus. After the harvest of some plants, e.g. cucumbers, it is also possible to sow ash, e.g. vetch, cereals. However, the modification should not disturb the consequences too much, as the same plants should be placed in the same field not earlier than after 5 years.

Another Example of Crop Rotation

  • 1. early potato (bean as an after-crop); 2. radish (fore-crop), leek; 3. carrot (lamb’s lettuce); 4. corn (winter spinach as an after-crop); 5. cucumber, then put in strawberries
  • 1. spinach (fore-crop), late carrot; 2. lettuce (fore-crop), pumpkin, courgette; 3. kohlrabi (fore-crop), beans; 4. scorzonera; 5. herbs, then strawberries
  • 1. spring onions, turnip greens; 2. beets; 3. peas, winter lettuces; 4. winter lettuce, tomato; 5. celery
  • 1. beans; 2. radish, pepper; 3. lettuce, celery; 4. herbs and various flowers; 5. Jerusalem artichoke

16-Year Crop Rotation

1. cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
2. early potatoes (spinach catch crop)
3. corn or cereals, flowers, herbs
4. peas (followed by lettuce)
5. onions, leek, garlic
6. herbs
7. beans
8. Carrots, parsley, celery
9. cucumber, zucchini
10. peppers, tomatoes
11. flowers
12. cereals with legume plant or only peas, beans
13.-16. strawberries or other perennial crops

Several-Year Crop Rotations from a Farm in the Netherlands

Finally, it is worth quoting a practical, interesting crop rotation from one of the Dutch organic farms run by Ivonne and Jaapa Bosh near Alkmaar. Although it has been practiced on several hectares, it can also be transferred to a small eco garden.

Vegetables Between Trees

example-crop-rotation-vegetables-between-trees

Vegetables are grown on thirteen small (0.29 ha each) plots. In the immediate vicinity of farm buildings there is a variety of orchards with cherries, apple trees and pears. Each of the 13 plots is surrounded by a strip of trees and wild shrubs, which primarily provides protection against strong winds, but also makes the farm is extremely beautiful, and in its area is preserved, so important in ecology, biodiversity. Broken tree twigs also provide good fertilizer. The system of trees was created for about 5 years. It is enough to choose the right species. It is very easy to root willow and alder.

Crop Rotation

Two crop rotation systems are carried out on 13 plots (the holding was divided into the western part marked W and the eastern part marked E). At the beginning, the hosts tried to apply the permaculture principles (the proximity of plants very close to the wild nature), but they abandoned it because of the labour intensity of this solution, for example during harvest. Sometimes the hosts decide to experiment, e.g. one year they sowed beans between the corn.

In this way they protect the beans from the wind. In addition, the corn takes a lot of minerals from the ground, while the beans supply nitrogen there. When studying crop rotation, you can see that there is a great deal of biodiversity, but also that there is a shortage of carrots, for example. Gardens do not cultivate it because of the clay soil. They also have problems with the leek, but they plant it diagonally. This helps a little, although the sun is said to “straighten” the plant anyway.

7-Year Example of Crop Rotation

1. pole beans, lettuce, beetroot, bean, onion
2. lettuce (planted in August every week), red beet
3. cabbage – different kinds
4. empty, resting or pepper, aubergine
5. resting, corn
6. corn with clover, late asparagus bean, artichokes
7. artichoke, bean, strawberry

6 Years Example of Crop Rotation

1. strawberries, lettuces, rhubarb, currants
2. low beans, lettuces, celery
3. cabbage beans, peas, beans, leek, lettuce
4. lettuce, beans (sown every week), corn, clover as a catch crop after corn
5. empty
6. cabbage, leek

Modern ecological examples of plant selection

Gertrude Franck Method

The most popular and probably the most transparent, simple coordinate cultivation method, often used in organic gardens, especially for beginners, was developed by Gertrude Franck. Since 1940, she had been running a fairly large horticultural farm in Germany. She experimented and developed her method for many years. It is most useful in fairly large gardens or even in open field cultivation, where we have enough space. This makes it more difficult to grow many vegetables on small areas. Gertrude Franck in his garden does not give out any paths or fields. It is cultivated on the whole surface.

In spring, the whole garden is sown with spinach (some people also advise to sow e.g. broad beans, instead of spinach) in rows preferably every half a meter, or you can sow it every 40 cm. This plant grows fast, is easy to grow, its seeds are cheap, and above all, it harmonizes well with many other cultivated plants and is a good neighbor for most of them. Besides, it belongs to a botanical family with a small number of cultivated plants (basically only beets and chard belong to it, when we want to grow them, it is better to sow a row of beans instead of a row of spinach, this will keep the crop rotation correct) and protect the plants from flea attacks. Once the plants have grown, or when they start to interfere with the main crop, they are cut down and used as green fertilizer for surface composting.

When we make cultivation plans between rows of spinach, the rows are usually marked a, b, c. They are sown or planted with the right crops. The plants in a row a are those with only one main crop and are usually planted or sown only in May. So it can be tomatoes, late cabbage or late carrots, celery, tical beans, kohlrabi, peppers, cucumbers. In this row there should also be permanent crops such as strawberries. When we plant the plant after “cold gardeners” in the field, it is possible to grow here also radish or green fertilizer. In row b lying one meter or 80 cm from the row a there are vegetables, which need half of the vegetation season to develop and thus enable the cultivation of catch crop or forecrop, e.g. leek, early carrot, onion, chicory lamb’s lettuce, cauliflower, early cabbage, beans, peas.  Rows marked as c lie in the middle between rows a and b. They are used for growing vegetables or low herbs that need little space. The growth allows for two or even three times growing in the same place. In row c we grow lettuces, radishes, one-year-old herbs, spice plants. Rows of spinach, and with them the rows marked a, b, c, move by 20-25 cm every year. In this way it is possible to change it properly. Rows a and b are on the same place after 8 years. Rows c after four years. If it is humid and we have to enter the garden to plant or sow, or harvest, then – in order not to knead the beds too much – we put the boards on the soil and move on them. When the work is done, we remove them.

Modifications to the Franck method

The cultivation method proposed by Gertuda Franck can be easily modified for your own needs, or it can be applied to a garden where we have fields and paths between them. Simply then the paths are a break. You can also sow the paths with grasses with legume plants and treat them as a row of spinach in cultivation. Instead of spinach, you can also sow other plants, including butterfly plants, such as the aforementioned bean. In the main crop rows you can include after-crops, forecrops and mid-crops for better use of space. For example, after lettuce you can grow Chinese cabbage, after onion leaf chicory, after early cabbage beans, after peas you can plant strawberries. It is also possible to plant kohlrabi between beans, after beans to sow cucumbers, after radishes to plant leeks, to sow late carrots, beans etc.