Careful crop rotation leads to a much healthier veggie garden

By now you are well into the growing season of your vegetable garden and hopefully are benefiting from the fruits of your labour. As you think ahead to what you would like to do next year, it is a good idea to take some notes of where things were planted this year so you can move things around next season.
A good gardener will use crop rotation from year to year, to ensure good soil nutrient supply and pest control, by changing the location of your annual vegetable crops.
Crops such as peas and beans (legumes) put nutrients back in the soil as they grow. This family of plants is known as nitrogen fixing. The roots of legume species have little nodes that take in nitrogen and then ‘fix’ it in the soil. Because of these benefits you will want to keep rotating your beans and peas all around your garden so you can build the nitrogen stores in the soil. It is also good to know where you planted theses crops in previous years, so if you want to plant a crop that requires lots of nitrogen (corn) you can plant it in one of the areas where the legumes grew recently.
Although some plant species share the same pest problems many plants have garden insect pests unique to them or the family of plants that they belong to. Some pests and diseases can lay dormant in the soil over the winter months, just waiting for you to pop that vegetable back in the ground in the spring. By changing the location of the vegetable, you help to reduce the infestation of pests and diseases specific to that plant.
Crop rotation can be used in your vegetable garden regardless of the size of the garden. It is easier in a larger garden, to rotate the crops from year to year, because you have more space and more options for crop placement. While you may not be able to achieve a full rotation in a small vegetable garden, but with careful planning you will be able to rotate most crops and vary their locations from year to year.
It is highly recommended, that you make a map of the crop layout of your garden each season. This will help you to remember where plants were placed last year so you can determine how you will rotate the crops for this season. For any size garden a great way to practice crop rotation is to divide the garden into four quarters. Each quadrant can grow specific vegetable and then just rotate the crops in the quadrant, clock-wise each year. You can also change the location of the crops within each quadrant if you like too. By using the rotation pattern by a quadrant, you will grow the same crops in the same part of the garden once every four years. This is a fantastic way of rotating your crops. Now of course this sounds great in theory and should work for the most part, but in reality, you just may run into a situation where you shouldn’t plant the same family year to year in the same spot or two plants can’t be side by side in the garden, etc. For example: you shouldn’t plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the same spot as the potatoes were last year and corn always grows best where you had legume species the year before. Just do the best you can and keep good records so you can make adjustments the following year. Your map is a good place to mark the variety name of your crop so next year you will know whether you want to grow that variety again. It is always good to keep notes on your map about how each crop did in its location. Notes like too much sun and too much shade will help you to streamline crop placement in future seasons.
The purpose for this column is not for you to perfectly place your crops in the garden year after year but to get you thinking about good soil nutrient management. You may have been planting the same plant in the same spot year after year and have been complaining that this plant doesn’t seem to grow like it used to. So do your best to rotate the crops based on what your garden has to offer for space and sun exposure and give some thought into the future as you place the crops for this season. Crop rotation is just another tool you can use to help you become the best gardener you can be and to produce the best vegetables.