Do you have the same nose as your mother, or maybe you have your father’s eyes? My sister inherited a quick temper and red hair from our grandmother. Plants, like people, share significant traits that are helpful for gardeners to know. We group these plants into “families” so we can use them for the best crop rotation practices.
Crop Rotation To Prevent Garden Disease
Being familiar with the vegetable groups makes it easier to rotate crops effectively. For example, tomatoes are highly susceptible to wilt diseases and do best when rotated each year. They should not be replaced with another family member, such as peppers, since all members of the Solanaceae group can be infected by the same fungus.
At a minimum, plant the same vegetable family in the same soil only once every other year. A 4 year rotation cycle is even better since some diseases can stay in the soil for that long. “Same soil” is defined as within a 10 foot radius from where the vegetable was previously planted. That means that you can use crop rotation methods within the same raised planting bed as long as you rotate from one side to the other.
A system that is fairly easy comes from Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver: Vegetables, Fruits & Herbs, page 377:
“Keep track of the vegetables that have been planted in the bed without worrying exactly where in the bed they are located. This means that the rotation plan will be set up to shift vegetables from bed to bed each year (or half bed), trying to avoid planting a variety in a bed more than once every three years. This approach makes for a cleaner record.”
Keep Track Of Your Garden
A garden journal of some sort is essential for effective crop rotation. As much as you think you will remember where the potatoes were planted last year, I can promise you - once planting time comes around you will forget what happened in the garden before the long, cold months of winter.
I’m a big proponent of garden planners and I keep notes about my harvest every year. My garden plot plans are just simple outlines kept in a red journal that I can look at each spring. There are several great online programs too. Not only is a journal great for remembering what you planted in the garden last year, they can also give you a history of first and last frost dates and vegetable yields from year to year.
Plant Families To Watch
Brassicaceae (brass-ih-KAY-see-ee) All members of this family are biennials and have a two year growth cycle. We pick the crop during the first year but must wait until the second year for seed to harvest. They are all cool weather crops so they can go into the garden fairly early in the spring.
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese cabbage
- Mustard greens
Cucurbitaceae (cu·cur·bi·TA·ce·ae) All members of this family are warm season crops that should not be planted outside until all danger of frost has passed. All the blossoms are edible.
Chenopodiaceae (ken-oh-poh-dee-AY-see-ee) are characterized as soil builders. They have a dense root system that breaks up compacted soil. The seeds that you plant are actually tiny fruits containing the real seeds and your seedlings will need to be thinned.
- Swiss Chard
Asteraceae (ass-ter-AY-see-ee) (formerly Compositae). In many plants of the Asteraceae family, what appears to be a single flower is actually a cluster of much smaller flowers. The overall appearance of the cluster, as a single flower, functions in attracting pollinators in the same way as the structure of an individual flower in some other plant families. The older family name, Compositae, comes from the fact that what appears to be a single flower is actually a composite of smaller flowers.
Fabaceae (fab-AY-see-ee) (formerly Leguminosae) are the fixer crops because they are able to fix the atmospheric form of nitrogen in their roots. By doing this they provide part of their own fertilizer, but they also increase soil fertility. To get the most out of their benefits you could follow a crop of Broccoli or Tomatoes with a crop of beans to put nutrients back into the soil.
Liliaceae (lil-ee-AY-see-eye) are known for their pungent roots and are a staple in the home vegetable garden. Asparagus and chives are wonderful perennials to have in the home garden. All others are harvested yearly.
Apiaceae (ay-pee-AY-see-ee) Most Apiaceae are annual, biennial or perennial herbs that are a characterized as mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems.
Solanaceae (so-lan-AY-see-ee) The edible members of this family are a good source of vitamin C and like slightly acidic soil. They like potassium, so adding a banana peel to the hole while planting works wonders.
- Ground Cherries
- Chili Pepper
- Bell Pepper
NOTE: These Latin names are tricky but you can go online, search the family name, and have it tell you the pronunciation. Once you figure out the key, it’s easy to remember. I’m a big Harry Potter fan and every time I ask it do that, I hear Emma Watson as Hermione, saying to Ron “It’s Leve-O-sar not Leve-o-SAR!”
These are the major plant families for the common vegetables you might grow in your home garden. Start a garden journal right now and begin crop rotation practices with your next planting. You will see less soil-borne problems in the garden once you have the system down. What about you – do you rotate crops or just plant ‘em in the garden where they fit?