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Crop Rotation for the Small Vegetable Garden

Debbie Roland, Master Gardener

Debbie Roland, Master Gardener

Have you ever planted tomatoes two or three years in a row and then realized your harvest was lower and your plants did not look as healthy as the previous year? It may not have had anything to do with your green thumb but could be because you were not rotating your crops.

Crop rotation means that you systematically plant annual vegetables within their botanical families. Your garden will improve when you move the “family” together to a new spot. It will keep your soil healthier because the same crop won’t be draining all the nutrients it needs to survive.

Moving plant families will also manage soil borne illnesses like insects (think squash bugs – yuk!) and verticillium wilt. Some bugs and diseases like certain plants and will overwinter in hopes of having a buffet next year too.

One way to avoid this is to follow the diagram below which divides each plant family as legumes, roots, leaves and fruit. You can have four separate beds or just divide your garden into four areas. Each year you will rotate the crops from Bed 1 to Bed 2, Bed 2 to Bed 3 and so forth. I have a fifth area as well where I leave one area unplanted each year so that the soil can rest and enjoy my leftover coffee grounds, kitchen scraps and grass clippings (no grass seeds PLEASE).

This is the perfect time of year to plant a cover crop in any area of your garden you aren’t using for a fall garden. I find that where there is bare soil, the earth finds a way to cover it. That is usually with some sort of weed or my archnemesis, Bermuda grass. A cover crop will increase your soil’s health by preventing erosion and increasing nutrients. It also provides protection from the elements and food for the all important micro-organisms. Your spring garden will thank you. Go to to see which cover crop will meet the needs for your garden.

If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information.


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