By Jenny Peterson
Seasoned vegetable gardeners know the benefits of rotating their crops—or, in common terms, the practice of planting different vegetables in the same part of the garden each year. Crop rotation allows soil nutrients to replenish and it will prevent the buildup of soil-borne pests and diseases. Pests and diseases tend to be drawn to particular plants, so regularly removing those plants and replacing them with different plants can break that cycle. And those soil nutrients have the same issue—certain vegetables will draw more heavily on nitrogen, for example, depleting the soil season after season if crops aren’t rotated.
So how do you know what to plant, when to plant it, and where to plant it? Admittedly, this can seem confusing, but there’s a rhyme and reason to it all. Here is a list of vegetable categories or families, with suggestions of appropriate plants for a perfect rotation. Keep it handy when planting your fall garden.
Beet Family: This family includes swiss chard, spinach, and beets, which are all heavy feeders. Follow these crops with a planting of legumes or beans.
Onion Family: Onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots are in this family of light feeders. They should be planted following a crop of heavy feeders, then followed by a crop of legumes.
Lettuce Family: Endive, lettuce, and chicory are similar to the beet family—they are heavy feeders that should be followed by a legume planting.
Tomato Family: Curiously, this family not only includes tomatoes but potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. They’re also heavy feeders and should be followed by a legume crop.
Squash Family: Summer and winter squashes, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins are heavy feeders as well. Now you know the drill: rotate these with a crop of legumes.
Bean Family: Ah, the popular legume family! This one includes beans, peas, clover, and vetch and is an important crop in the vegetable garden. They are soil builders, enriching the soil’s nutrients. You can plant legume crops either before or after any other crop for maximum benefit.
Cabbage Family: This is a large family including cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, radishes, and turnips. Very heavy feeders, they should be followed with a legume crop, or followed with a season of cover crop to rest and replenish the soil.
Carrot Family: Carrots, celery, coriander, dill, parsley, and anise are the light-to-medium feeders in this family. The carrot family can be planted after any other crop and can be followed by either the legume or onion family.