Growing Organically – Crop Rotation

Posted by Mom on March 30, 2017

Crop rotation is an essential strategy for organic gardeners. By alternating the crops planted at a particular site, a gardener can avoid soil-borne pathogens and pests, replenish nutrients in the soil and take advantage of symbiotic relationships.

After we’ve taken stock of our seed supply and ordered new seeds, it’s time for us to decide what real estate each crop will have in the garden. We begin by pulling out the garden plan from the previous year to refresh ourselves as to where each crop had grown the previous season. This plan is a simple map sketched on paper and is invaluable because it is amazing how poor our memory is from one year to the next!

We adopted our system of crop rotation from an article by Carol Hall in the book Living the Country Dream, in which a simple, four-year rotation is presented. Hall recommends dividing your garden into four quadrants and rotating those quadrants each year. The first quadrant contains the cabbage family (brassicas); the second root crops; the third legumes, cool-weather crops and salad crops; the fourth warm-weather crops (see table below). The rotation ensures that vegetables that are compatible with one another stay together and that nutrient recycling within the soil operates optimally. This system works well for us and we use it in our four raised gardens.

We also grow veggies in a reclaimed strip of a former hay field. The field had grown hay for over a decade before we arrived on the property. The hay, however, was losing ground to grasses and weeds and would be turned over by the renters for soybean and corn (we hope to reclaim the remainder of this 7 acre field in time and are currently hatching up a scheme). We wanted to expand our gardening space and knew the soil beneath the hay crop was well over the minimum 3 years without the application of non-organic materials that is necessary for organic certification. It was now or never if we wished to make use of the soil for our gardens. We chose the ‘now’ option and rototilled two 15ft x 30ft rectangles. That was in 2013.

Vegetable Garden and Chicken Picture

In the past, the crops we grew in the field were those that garden-raiding-herbivores found less palatable. Their favourite delicacies we planted in our raised beds – too high for them to jump/climb into and protected by a fence. Fortunately, we don’t have to contend with deer raiding our garden.

It’s in the field where we grew our squashes, corn, melons and potatoes; crops that needed lots of room to sprawl of that we wanted to produce a larger harvest than a raised bed would accommodate.This year we will use a fence around the garden to keep out our foraging chickens and (hopefully) the rabbits and groundhogs too. The fence will allow us to try to grow the rabbits’ favourites (peas, beans, cabbages, lettuces and beets) and permit us to grow something from each quadrant that Ms. Hall identifies in her article. If the fence works, we can take full advantage of crop rotation in the field garden as well.

The second plot in the field is the site of our permanent crops: asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb. These three perennial crops are traditional plants for a northern homesteader. Once established, and with a little bit of maintenance, they will continue to produce for decades.

Quadrant 1: BrassicasQuadrant 2:Root CropsQuadrant 3:
Legumes, Cool-weather crops, Salad crops
Quadrant 4:
Warm-weather crops
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi.Carrots, salsify, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, winter beets, winter radishes.Swiss chard, turnips, beans, peas celery, onions, leeks, lettuce/salad greens, spinach, summer beets, summer radishes, summer turnips.Cucumbers, corn, melons, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, melons, squashes, zucchini.

Hal, C. (2007). Plotting With Nature. In Cruickshank, T. (Ed.), Living The Country Dream (pp. 61-66). Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books Ltd.