Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I have written about rotation before and about the rotation scheme I use. Too often, I see gardens in which the same family of food plants are grown year after year in the same place. I can even observe what looks to be a decline in plant health and vigor, and production, over the years when this is done. Rotation, or moving plants of the same family to a different section of garden each year, is important. Plants in the same family can exhaust the soil of specific nutrients and encourage pests. Moving the plants to a new area can help build the soil and can reduce pest damage. I gave a simple roatiion scheme last year, but the Feb/March, 2010 edition of Mother Earth News gives a more comprehensive look at rotation and a more extensive rotation scheme. They list 9 main groups or families of crops that should be rotated together in a 3 to 4 year rotation scheme.

The first family of plants that I am most concerned about is the tomato family (tomatoes are often listed as the number one reason people have a vegetable garden). So, here goes:
1. The tomato family: includes peppers, eggplants and white potatoes.
2. The onion family: onions, garlic, leeks and shallots.
3. The carrot family: carrots, celery, parsnips and parsley.
4. The cabbage family: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabagas, kohlrabi, other leafy greens
5. The spinach family: includes beets and chard
6. The pea family: peas and beans
7. The sunflower family: sunflowers, lettuces and some other leafy greens
8. The cucumber family: cukes, melons, squash and gourds
9. Grass family: corn, wheat, oats and rye.

It is a good idea to have separate vegetable garden beds, one for each family of plants that you grow, in which to rotate. There is no perfect way to do this- some plants are large and take up a lot of space, some smaller and take up less, but sometimes combining two families in a rotation will work. For example, if you grow a small amount of lettuce and a few beets, they can be put in one rotation, and your cucumber family in another. At times I have run out of rotation room and have built a new veg garden bed to use for that year (and it is mostly for the tomato family).

So remember rotation! and Happy Gardening!


Steena Holmes said...

So here's a question Judy. I've convinced my husband to build me a small corner garden. Once he puts the soil in - it's all up to me. so what do I do? I'd like to grow peas and beans, potatoes, maybe some hanging tomatoes but I don't know what else to do. I had a potted garden last year and it didn't really work out.

Judy Thomas said...

Hi Steena,
There area few considerations before you plant.
1. What do you like to eat?
2. Where do you live?
3. What kind of "soil" is it?
#1: sounds like you know what you would like to grow. However, #2: where you live matters as to whether you can get a crop out of some of those plants this season. For example, here in Virginia it is too late to plant peas and potatoes and expect a good yield. If you live in zone 5 or above, you still might be able to (in much of the US zone 7 and above St. Patty's Day is the traditional day to plant potatoes and peas. I do it around March 1-these plants need cool weather to grow and stop growing in the heat). Beans need to be planted after your first frost date (check the UDSA Zone map for your zone and last average frost date) so you are not too late yet. We are just about there in VA, and south of us is just fine to plant beans.
#3: soil- you will probably need to amend the soil, that is, add some nutrients and things to build the soil structure (compost, peat or peat substitute and a good organic vegetable fertilizer).

What I would do is plant a small variety of plants:
1. ones that reliably grow and grow fast- radishes, lettuces, cilantro (though these need to be planted soon in Zone 7 the lower zone numbers).
2. your favorite herb (basil, chives, cilantro).
3. and , of course, at least one tomato.
One neat idea for a small space is a salsa garden; a tomato plant, bell pepper, hot pepper, cilantro, few onions (too late to plant garlic).
Not surprised that the potted garden did not work. I do get good growth from potted hot and pimento peppers and some herbs, but that's about it.