Crop rotation is a term more commonly associated with farmers although
increasingly less so in the modern age of monoculture and industrial
food production. It is a practice that farmers for many thousands of
years utilized to preserve the health of the soil and their crops.

It is actually a technique that can be applied on any scale, and it is
ideally suited to permaculture plots for the benefits it brings. The
idea of crop rotation is that different plant species are planted in
different areas of the garden bed in successive seasons, so no plant
is in the same patch of soil for more than one crop growing cycle.
There are several benefits to crop rotation.

Perhaps the primary reason to use crop rotation is that it prevents the
build up of diseases in the soil. Many pathogens and harmful bacteria
affect a certain species or family of plant. If the same plant is grown
in the same area of soil for several growing seasons this allows the
disease time to build up and can eventually lead to crop failure. By
rotating the crops, with different families following one another, these
harmful microorganisms are kept in check. The same goes for potentially
damaging pest insect populations. Many pests favor particular species or
families of vegetable or fruit. For instance, potato beetles will, besides
potatoes, also eat plants in the same family such as eggplants. By rotating
crops you deprive the pests – which often overwinter in the soil of a
consistent supply of their favorite foods, and so populations are kept in

It is not simply preventative measures that crop rotation provides the
permaculture plot; it can also have a positive impact on the quality and
health of the soil. Different types of plants require different combinations
of nutrients. Some may be heavier nitrogen feeders, for example, while others
require a soil with lots of carbon. Different plants also prefer different
soil alkalinity or acidity. Thus, if you plant the same species of plant in
the same position, they may deplete the soil of certain nutrients. By rotating
crops you not only avoid doing this, but you can use the plants themselves to
maintain the nutrient balance in the soil. For instance, you plant heavy feeders
of nitrogen in a position that in the previous growing season was planted with
nitrogen fixing species. Some plants also improve the quality of the soil, by
adding organic matter or by varying root depth so that the soil structure remains
ideal for moisture percolation and aeration.

The precise way you practice crop rotation will depend upon the conditions unique
to your site, such as soil health and climate, as well as the crops you wish to
harvest. However, there is a standard four-bed crop rotation for vegetables that
can act as a point of general guidance in which types of plants most benefit from
following one another.

Plant Groups

There are four groups of vegetable plant families that are rotated through the beds
in a cycle over four years. The plants species within these families have similar
nutrient needs and interactions with the soil and insects.

Group One

The first group is the brassicas and other leafy vegetables that are grown for their
leaves. This group includes kales, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lettuce
and broccoli. These are heavy feeders of nutrients.

Group Two

This is the legume group, and includes vegetables such as broad beans, peas, okra,
peanuts and cover crops such as alfalfa and clover. These plants fix a lot of
nitrogen in the ground, which is why they follow the first group whose heavy feeding
habits will have depleted the soil of this essential nutrient.

Group Three

The third group comprises the allium family, which includes onions, leeks, shallots
and garlic. These plants like a nutrient rich soil with lots of organic matter, so
follow the legumes who ad nutrients to the soil and can, if cover crops are slashed
and left to rot into the soil, add rich humus to the topsoil.

Group Four

The fourth group comprises rooting and fruiting vegetables, such as carrots, beets,
radish, onions, potatoes, corn, tomatoes and capsicums. The root systems these plants
develop help improve the quality of the soil structure by penetrating deeper into the
soil profile. Thus, they are followed by legumes, which prefer a loose soil to grow in.


These four groups are cycled through four separate garden beds in the following order.

In Year 1 bed one will contain the brassicas, bed two will be planted with the rooting
and fruiting crops, bed three will house the alliums and bed four legumes.

The second year sees the legumes moved to bed one, the brassicas to bed two, the rooting
and fruiting plants to the third bed and the alliums to bed four.

In the third growing season in the succession the set-up will be as follows: bed one will
contain alliums, bed two the legumes, bed three the brassicas and the fourth bed will be
planted with rooting and fruiting crops.

In the fourth and final year of the succession plan, bed one is planted with rooting and
fruiting varieties, bed two has the alliums, bed three the legumes and the fourth bed
plays host to the brassicas.

This is a simple guide to crop rotation, and you can adapt it to suit your tastes, climate
conditions and size of your plot. However, it is generally a good idea to avoid planting
the same family of vegetables in the same location any more frequently than once every four
years. This gives the soil the opportunity to retain its balance and avoid depletion of
nutrients. Is you are trying to repair soil, you may also want to plant a bed with a single
cover crop to replenish nutrients, or indeed factor a fallow year for each of your beds into
the plan, so that nothing is grown in it and nature can act upon the soil as it sees fit.

How to Do a 4-Bed Crop Rotation



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