As home vegetable gardeners gear up for a fresh start on this year’s crops, it is best to make a rather detailed plan. Planning what and how many of the various veggies to plant can save time and money. At the same time, it is important to plan for crop rotation in order to reduce problems with insect pests and diseases.
Vegetables that are closely related are prone to the same problems, so think of these in terms of plant families. Most members of the spinach family and lettuce are subject to the same problems as the cabbage clan, so lump them together in one area of the garden. Squash, cucumbers and melons form another family, as do potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Corn stands alone. Peas and beans are both legumes. Finally, there is a mixed bag of root crops that are susceptible to the same problems. This group includes sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and beets.
To have a successful system of rotation, the gardener needs a minimum of four areas. Thus one would put plants of one family in an area every fourth year. In addition to moving the families around, think about cool- and warm-season crops and alternate those on an annual basis as well.
For planning purposes, we have six vegetable groups. Three of these, squash, the solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants) and corn, are warm-season crops. Cabbage, spinach and lettuce are primarily grown in cool seasons. Our mixed bag of roots and the legumes contain both cool- and warm-season vegetables.
Most backyard farmers grow just a few favorites every summer. Even in this situation, one can move around the tomatoes and peppers along with the squash and cucumbers so that they are not in the same ground year after year. Container gardeners should empty and clean their pots every year and fill them with new potting mix. The nutrients in last year’s soil were depleted by yesteryear’s crop.
For more ambitious vegetable growers, consider planting legumes that replace nitrogen in the soil after such heavy feeders as the solanaceae and squash. Carrots and their herbal cousins are light to medium feeders and so can follow the heavy feeders without any problems.
We rotate our tires to extend tread life, so let’s rotate our veggies to outwit pests and pathogens.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett tries to manage her beds so that all the plant families live in harmony.