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My Experiments with Crop Rotation

I have been experimenting with garden beds and crop rotations for several years now. I find that having good planning and organization allows me to perfect how much food I can grow. I took a nod from the Bible of all places and decided to create seven beds with six planted in any given year and one resting for the year to recover. I also created a little jingle to help me remember the groups of plants and the rotation I like to use. It goes "Grains, Greens, Beans, Cucs, Roots, Fruits, Rest". I'll go into more detail on each of these groups below.

It is critical to rotate what gets planted in each bed each year. If you plant the same thing two years back-to-back, your plants will be more susceptible to pests and disease. It is also good to rotate from a heavy feeder to a light feeder to allow for some recovery until the rest year. 

Here are my latest notes on each bed. What I do is rotate one bed forward each year so bed 1 gets planted in bed 2 the second year and bed 3 the third year. And bed 1 gets to rest the second year. It is a little counterintuitive. When looking at a single bed, the rotation is actually reversed. Starting from Rest, the bed will then go Fruits, Roots, Cucs, Beans, Greens, Grains, and back to Rest.

Bed 1 Grains (bed 4 for 2024) - wheat, corn, sorghum, millet, oats, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, flax, sunflowers 

  • Wheat 6 inch spacing, plant outside 9/1
  • Corn 10 inch spacing, plant outside 5/15
  • Next year, I'll be trying oats followed by flax and buckwheat combo which worked well.

Bed 2 Greens (Brassicas) - swiss chard, kale, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts

  • Swiss chard 12 inch spacing, plant inside 4/15 and outside 5/15
  • Kale 12 inch space, plant outside 5/1
  • Next year, I'll be doing Swiss Chard and kale but need to find the curly kale variety. Broccoli raab was not successful last year but I will try starting indoors first then transplanting.

Bed 3 Beans (Legumes) - lentils, snap peas, green beans, dried beans, crimson clover

  • Snap peas 3 inch spacing, plant outside 5/1
  • Green beans 6 inch spacing, plant inside 5/15 and outside 6/1
  • Bush beans 18 inch spacing, plant outside 6/1
  • Next year, I'll do one trellis on one half of the bed with green beans and snap peas. Plus grow mayakoba beans on the other half of the bed.

Bed 4 Cucs (Cucurbits) - zucchini, cucumbers, butternut squash. This is also a good bed to plant woody herbs like dill, marjoram, oregano, thyme, sage, or rosemary.

  • Zucchini and cucumber 24 inch spacing, plant inside 5/15 and outside 6/1
  • Herbs 6 inch spacing, plant inside 5/1 and outside 6/1
  • Next year, I'll be trying zucchini on one half and butternut squash in the second half. Maybe mix in herbs.

Bed 5 Roots (Alliums and Umbellifers) (3) - garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, beets, turnips - try buckwheat/flax catch crop

  • Garlic 4 inch spacing, plant outside 10/15, 4"-30", 8 cloves per side
  • Red onion 4 inch spacing, plant from seed inside 4/1 or from starters outside 5/15
  • Carrots 3 inch spacing, plant inside 4/15 and outside 5/15
  • Next year I'll be doing half red onion and half carrot. And I'll use carrot leaves during the season as a parsley substitute. I may also line the front and back edge with garlic.

Bed 6 Fruits (Solanums) (2) - tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes. This is also a good bed to plant basil and cilantro that compliment tomatoes so well.

  • Tomatoes 18 inch spacing, plant inside 5/1 and outside 6/1 - 1 early girl in the middle
    • Tried grape tomato variety and it was too viny
  • Peppers 12 inch spacing, plant inside 4/1 and outside 6/1 - 2 for the corners
    • No success with jalapenos yet
  • Eggplant 12 inch spacing, plant inside 4/1 and outside 6/1 - 2 for the corners
    • Japanese variety is my favorite for being long and slender
  • Basil and cilantro - start indoors 5/1 and outdoors 6/1 - sides of bed

Bed 7 Rest (2/6) - compost

There is also a four year rotation that goes "Grains, Greens, Beans, Rest". The single bed progression would be Rest, Beans, Greens, Grains, and back to Rest.

2023 Season Notes

  • Grains - planted flax and buckwheat which worked well. Also, figured out harvesting technique for flax by bending plant tips into bucket then running gloved hands through stems to separate seeds. This keeps plant in tact to grow more seeds.
  • Greens - didn't get this bed right. I thought I got curly kale but it wasn't. Tt was semi flat leafed, spiky, and tough. The broccoli raab seeds didn't take, and the chard was an odd variety that I got from someone in the gardening club that turned out to have a salty flavor.
  • Beans - snap peas were fantastic. I didn't get any green beans to take. And the Mayakoba only produced one plant but enough to get some seeds to try next year that hopefully are better adapted.
  • Cucs - this was the best zucchini yet, a dark flesh variety that produced well. The cucumber go overcrowded and likely needed a trellis. I will try going back to a hydroponic method for next year. The butternut squash in a separate bed was amazing. Two plants took over an entire 8x8 area. I will try one plant in a bed next year but will need to plant it in back and make sure the vines have enough area to spread.
  • Roots - the stubby carrot variety worked well. The garlic wasn't great but it was a store bought bulb that I tried planting. I've since received a bulk from a local farm that I will plant for next season. I didn't do red onions this season but may try them again next year as that had been a success in 2022.
  • Fruits - I had an indeterminant grape tomato that was difficult to control its size. I also had an early tomato that did well. I saved the seeds but may try a different early variety that is supposedly more prolific with multiple smaller 2oz tomatoes. I got some peppers this year unlike years past but still nothing great. I used transplants again which may be the issue. Next year, I'll try my own saved seed plus another local seed company. I started an eggplant from seed and got one fruit to be able to save seed but the tomatoes crowded it out. I will plan to only plant one tomato plant next year to give the peppers and eggplant more room.

Plants that don't go well together

  • Don't combine carrots and potatoes