Crop rotation: my head is spinning

I’ve been getting in a twist over crop rotation.

I recruited Carol and Mr Smith to help with this process

I’m trying to nail down the planting plan for the six raised beds in the Secret Garden. My main issue, of course, is that I want to plant ALL THE PLANTS. Which is madness – I need to pick a shortlist of edibles and flowers which I will either want to eat, pick or sell. That is what The Secret Garden is for. However, it’s not so easy to whittle it down, and even more difficult to decide what goes where. I’m overthinking it all of course…

I have only loosely followed a crop rotation plan in the previous four years of gardening here, although I’ve grown more or less the same core crops – potatoes, carrots, peas, courgettes and a variety of cut flowers. I also have a half bed of rhubarb and a handful of fruit bushes which stay in place all year round. Otherwise, the beds are cleared out at the end of the growing season and given a good mulch with home-made compost. Usually by the middle of October I’m ready for a good tidy-up and (so far) haven’t had the patience for winter cropping vegetables, so the beds are generally neat and tidy for their winter rest.

It’s truly a blank canvas. The potential! The opportunity! The total confusion of having so many decisions to make!

I am keen to follow a crop rotation plan – it’s good for the health of the plants and soil and probably a useful guide to avoid this kind of dilemma in future. I think the soil in my beds is also quite low nutritionally, so hopefully following this sort of plan would also help to restore and keep the balance of nutrients needed for a good crop.

The general rotation for a four-bed system is: potatoes – roots (eg carrots/parsnips) – legumes (eg peas/beans) – brassicas. So…what do you do when you want to dedicate only three beds, you generally grow your potatoes in bags and don’t really bother with brassicas?? Half the system is out the window! Cue much googling. There’s mixed opinion on whether crop rotation is really effective or not. There are definitely rules worth sticking to, such as not growing ‘hungry’ crops like onions next to peas, and generally avoiding planting the same family of crops in the same space year after year. Potatoes also benefit specifically from rotation because of the risk of soil-borne disease . Many people will simply rotate the spuds and not worry too much about the rest.

There’s one guy I knew who could give me some solid advice on this issue – Charles Dowding. A quick google revealed the video below, which I found very interesting…

Charles’ results seem to be mixed – some crops have flourished grown in the same spot, others are struggling after repeated sowings.

The RHS has some useful advice here.  This is obviously the official advice of the Royal Horticultural Society – the ‘rules’ if you like…but I think rules are sometimes meant to be broken – or at least, not adhered to if it’s going to stress you out! So having taken these two sources on board, I think I will try to stick to a rough rotation, as it will help me to plan for this year and in the future. I like the idea of having a set of reasonable guidelines to follow. But I will take a relaxed approach to it -if I end up sowing peas or carrots in the same place for some reason I won’t stress about it too much.

I was also interested to find out what kind of crops I can grow together, as I am keen to pack my raised beds with as many plants as possible this year. Previously I’ve been cautious about overplanting but I think I’m being too careful and the beds have looked a bit sparse in the past. I want lush, green, overflowing beds which look full of growth and life. So, in researching what veg to plant side-by-side, I found the fabulous Grow like Grandad blog and his link to the Suttons Companion Planting guide, which is super-helpful and nicely visual.

The result of all this is I now have a planting plan featuring carrots, peas and potatoes as my ‘main’ crops – yes, the potatoes are going back into the beds – and these will be interplanted (or replaced as the season progresses) with spring onions, lettuce, cabbage and purple sprouting brocolli. Courgettes will go into containers, along with any herbs and fruit which I want to grow.

But what about the other three beds, I hear you cry?! Well that’s a whole other planning session – I have a ridiculous number of dahlias, carnations and bee-friendly annual flowers to grow from seed and fit into the remaining space…this is going to get interesting!

The sunroom is gradually being taken over by propagators , sweet pea seedlings and newly-purchased and planted dahlia tubers 🙂

One comment

  1. That is really interesting watching the video. Those brassicas look incredibly healthy – I wonder if he took the netting off for the video? We have to keep ours netted permanently because of cabbage white butterflies in the summer and birds in the winter. Like you, when I had a small plot (just one raised bed!) I was not bothered about potatoes, so grew on a three year rotation, and it worked well. Lovely to see your plot – I love the planning!


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