Crop rotation is the practice of alternating crops of specific vegetable families to different areas of the garden from year to year.

This gives the soil a rest from each vegetable family before that family returns to the same garden space again.

Benefits of rotating crops include:

  • Pests have a harder time finding suitable host plants and so cannot build up their numbers as quickly.
  • Diseases are less likely to overwinter and infect next year’s crops.
  • Yields are improved because nutrients in the soil are used more evenly.

Crop rotation ideally has a 3 year cycle, but if a small garden has you thinking a 3 year rotation is not for you, you can still plant different families in different places each year, or grow mixed plantings in your whole garden. Rotation is more important to some plant families than others. The most important ones to move are: brassicas, cucurbits, and solanums, in that order.

Application in Small Gardens

  • If you are growing the same family in containers year after year, replace the soil every two years.
  • If you grow so much of one family that a 3 year rotation is impossible, try to put things in a new place each year.
  • If you grow mixed plantings throughout your garden, consider noting groups of things that you like to plant next to each other, and moving those groups together as you rotate.

Garden Sanitation

Garden sanitation plays a large role in defense against pests and diseases. When a plant is done producing, remove it promptly and clean up all surrounding debris. If you decide to keep a diseased plant in the garden (squash with powdery mildew, peas with enation, etc.), remove all affected leaves as they appear.

Vegetables by Family

  • Alliaceae: Asparagus, Chives, Garlic, Leek, Onion, Scallion, Shallot.
  • Apiaceae: Carrot, Celery, Celeriac, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Parsley, Parsnip.
  • Asteraceae: Artichoke, Chicory, Endive, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lettuce.
  • Brassicaceae: Arugula, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Choi, Collards, Cress, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mizuna, Mustard, Oilseed Radish, Radish, Turnip.
  • Chenopodaceae: Beet, Chard, Spinach.
  • Curcurbitaceae: Cucumber, Gourd, Melon, Pumpkin, Squash.
  • Fabaceae: Austrian Peas, Beans (all kinds), Crimson Clover, Fava Beans, Dutch White Clover.
  • Graminae: Annual Rye Grass, Corn, Fall Cereal Rye.
  • Lamiaceae: Basil.
  • Polygonaceae: Bloody Dock, Buckwheat, Sorrel.
  • Solanaceae: Eggplant, Ground Cherry, Potato, Pepper, Tomatillo, Tomato.
  • Valerianaceae: Mache/Vit/Corn Salad

Getting Started

In the table below we are assuming that whatever shape of garden, there is 60 feet of row to be used for planting. First, write down all the crops you want to grow and how many feet of row or bed space each will need. Next, group the larger families with the smaller families in any way that they make 3 equal groups. Then divide your garden space into 3 equal size plots and number them 1-3.

Bed Crop Family Feet of Row
1 Broccoli/Cauliflower BR 7’
  Kale BR 3’
  Brussels Sprout BR 2’
  Mustard/Collards BR 3’
  Garlic AL 5’
      Bed 1 total = 20
2 Tomatoes SO 6’
  Peppers SO 3’
  Potatoes SO 1.5’
  Carrots AP 4.5’
  Dill/Cilantro AP 3’
  Bulbing Fennel AP 2’
      Bed 2 total = 20
3 Peas FA 2.5’
  Snap Beans FA 2.5’
  Zucchini CU 3’
  Pumpkin CU 3’
  Cucumber CU 3’
  Corn GR 6’
      Bed 3 total = 20

Some short season greens such as lettuce, mache, sorrel, and spinach do not currently appear in the rotation. These should be planted before or after the same crop every season. For example, if in year one spring spinach is grown and followed by summer tomatoes in the same spot, then in all future years spring spinach should be followed by summer tomatoes.