So you’ve started growing your own food and you’re hooked—you’re planning to put that raised bed to good use for seasons to come. Allow us to let you in on a little secret for getting excellent results every season: crop rotation, which simply means moving plant families to new spots in the garden each year. It’s actually an ancient farming practice, and it helps you beat diseases and pests and keep your soil in good growing condition.
See, when you grow the same kind of plant in the same spot year after year, you create the perfect conditions for pests and diseases to take up residence and multiply in the soil. The squash vine borer terrorizing your melons, for example, will burrow into the soil in the fall and appear the next growing season to attack your zucchini. And the nematodes that decimated the roots of your tomato plant? They’re not going anywhere if you keep providing the kinds of plants they like to infect.
The other reason to move crops around is to help improve the soil. Different plants change the soil in different ways. For instance, beans actually feed the soil by adding nitrogen to it, and root crops like onions or carrots help break up the soil for better air and moisture movement.
Meet the Veggie Families
Like us, plants belong to families. Here are some of the common vegetable ones:
· Legumes—beans, peas, peanuts
· Crucifers (or cole crops)—cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas, kale, collard greens
· Cucurbits—squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons
· Nightshades—tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes
· Lily plants—onions, garlic, leeks, shallots
Handy Crop Rotation Tips
Here’s how to move plant families around in your own raised bed garden.
Make the most of just one bed. Does your garden consist of a single raised bed? Then consider growing a different plant family every year. Or, if you can’t image not growing your favorite veggies for a season, divide the bed and at least move plant families around from section to section. Of course, if you have more than one raised bed, you’ll want to rotate your plants from bed to bed.
Plan ahead. Sit down and think about what you want to grow over the next two or three years, then sketch your plan out on graph paper, indicating where everything should go. To make it easier, number the sections and move different plant families through them in numerical order. Every time you plant, snap photos to use as guides for future years.
Lay a solid foundation with great soil, plants, and plant food. Since you’ll be planting in the same raised bed for multiple seasons, it’s especially important to give your garden a strong start with soil that offers the ideal growing environment for plant roots. Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil is an excellent choice: It’s 100-percent organic and just the right weight and texture for raised bed growing. Be sure to refresh or even replace the soil at the beginning of each spring, then cover it with a layer of mulch to help keep moisture in and weeds out. In subsequent planting seasons, revive your existing raised bed soil by using Miracle-Gro® Refresh™ Soil Revitalizer. Nutrients are depleted and soil structure breaks down over time, and Miracle-Gro® Refresh™ is specially formulated to help rebuild soil structure, replenish nutrients, and renew water retention. Mix into your existing soil, following label directions, and then top off your bed with fresh Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil, if needed.
Plant-wise, start with strong, vigorous Bonnie Plants® that are already well on their way to maturity, so you have a better chance of success. And because veggies pull lots of nutrients out of the soil, you’ll want to feed them with a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Plant Food. In fact, this power combo of Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil and Miracle-Gro® plant food plus Bonnie Plants® will net you three times the harvest over a growing season versus unfed plants (when used as directed)!
Don’t fill in all the blanks. It’s really tempting to want to fill every open space in your raised bed. But if you always fill in empty spots with a favorite plant, you risk messing up your rotation scheme and not getting the best results from any of your plants.
Expand your space. Consider using grow bags or containers to increase your growing space and rotation options.
Sure, rotating the veggies you grow takes a little extra thought. But hey, doesn’t the lure of a flourishing garden and a hefty harvest make it all worthwhile? We thought so!