18 January 2012

Garden Bed Rotation

One of the important tools for healthy organic gardening is crop rotation, which keeps soils healthy and ensures that pests don't have the chance to become established in the soil.

The basic idea is that you plant beds out in four different groups (Legumes; Root crops; Fruiting crops; Leafy crops) and then rotate them the forward one position the next season or year.  In the gardening books this is often represented with simple diagrams which set out each group in a box with an arrow going to the next one and then from the last back to the first.  Easy!  In practice, it actually takes quite a lot of planning, and doesn't seem to be that straight forward...

In the City Garden crop rotation is almost impossible as I just don't have enough space.  I try to use an annual broad bean planting to provide as much nutrition to the soil as possible (and because they are my absolute favourite vegetable!) as well as mulching and composting the beds and pots, but not sure how long this strategy will keep working.

For the Country Garden however, I've just spent quite some time with lots of sheets of paper trying to work out a simple system that will enable us to rotate all the beds, starting with the potatoes in late winter, and then see us through subsequent years so we don't need to rethink it each year.  I've also been trying to incorporate the learnings from this first year.  For example, the lettuces have become a restaurant kitchen staple, but we've currently got them planted in one of the big beds with vegies that need netting over them to protect them from bugs, so it's actually quite difficult for the kitchen staff to quickly run out and grab some.  Also, some of the plants which will last for multiple years were planted in the middle of beds which need to be rotated, so really should be in their own space out of the rotation system.

On top of that, not everything ripens at the same time, so just allocating seasonal crops to each bed might not work to maximise harvests, and then really, the beds should also have some time to recover and get a quick crop of green manure every now and then.

I think I've finally worked out a system which will work reasonably well, but the challenge will be to keep track over it in the coming months as the summer and autumn crops finish, and gradually change across to the winter crops in the new beds.  Here's the rough outline of the plan through until winter:


  1. Hi, check out this great website I found for planning garden beds, its keeps a map, for want of a better word, over your crop rotation for the next 3 seasons and will show you if you planted that crop in that spot before. There is a free trial for 30 days. http://www.growveg.com/gardenplanner/gardenplanner.html#

    1. Oh that is very clever!! Thanks for passing on the link, I might give it a go. Have you tried to use it?