Growing Vegetables places more strain on a piece of land than flowering plants or shrubs because we remove nutrients every time we harvest a crop. Vegetables are also relatively hungry plants requiring a lot of nutrients to give you the crop you're expecting. It is for this reason that we really need to look after our soil, treat it like a lover, pander to it's every whim. It is the key to your success. Rule no 1? Practice crop rotation:
Crop rotation is a subject that puts some new gardeners off. It really isn’t difficult and is vitally important to the health of your vegetable garden. The idea is not to grow a crop in the same place year after year to prevent disease and nutrition problems in the garden. It requires a little planning at first but once you've got the basics you'll find it a breeze. You'll need to split your crops into 5 basic groups and they are:
Brassicas: Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Calabrese, Broccoli, Kale, Kohl-Rabi, Oriental Greens, Radish, Swede and turnips.
Legumes: Peas, Broad Beans, French Beans, Runner Beans.
Onions: Onions, Garlic, Shallots, Leeks.
Potato Family: Potato, Tomato, Pepper, Aubergine.
Roots: Beetroot, Carrot, Celeriac, Celery, Florence Fennel, Parsley, Parsnip and all other root crops except turnips and swede which are in the brassica section.
So why should I do it?
Disease Prevention: The main reason to rotate crops is to prevent the spread of plant disease. Disease organisms can build up over time, resulting in eventual crop failure. Rotating crops keeps these organisms in check.
Insect Control: Crop rotation also helps reduce insect infestations.
Nutrient Balance: Different families of plants require different nutrients. By rotating your crops, you keep the soil from being depleted and can target soil amendments to keep your garden balanced.
Nutrient Enhancement: Some plants actually enhance the soil, so rotating them through the garden can produce free organic soil conditioning.
What do I do?
Divide your growing space into roughly equal sections. I'm including an example of a four year rotation and for this we'll split the garden into four sections. Move each section of the plot a step forward every year so that, for example, brassicas follow legumes, onions and roots, legumes, onions and roots follow potatoes and potatoes follow brassicas.
Year one Section one: Legumes Section two: Brassicas Section three: Potatoes Section four: Onions and roots
Year two Section one: Brassicas Section two: Potatoes Section three: Onions and roots Section four: Legumes
Year three Section one: Potatoes Section two: Onions and roots Section three: Legumes Section four: Brassicas
Year four Section one: Onions and roots Section two: Legumes Section three: Brassicas Section four: Potatoes
You will notice that the Brassicas (Cabbage family) follow the Legumes (Peas and beans), this is because Legumes actually take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. The roots are then dug into the soil to release the nitrogen which is good for leafy crops like cabbage etc.... The Legumes then follow the roots as legumes like a loose soil which the root crops have helped you break up. It's all part of a very simple and sensible cycle. It's important too, for example if you get clubroot, a brassica disease, you will have it in the garden for up to 9 years. That's 9 years you can't grow cabbage!
So, if you don't do it already, give it a go. It's actually very handy to give you a starting framework to your garden. Once you have your plots laid out your choice of crops and varieties seem to fall effortlessly into place. It's an ancient system built on an understanding of the importance of good soil, your vegetable gardens' life force. Your vegetables will love you for it!