Crop Rotation In Your Vegetable Garden

During the agricultural revolution, a farmer called Viscount Townshend introduced the ‘Norfolk Four Course Crop Rotation’ and by doing so he played a key part in Britain’s agricultural revolution. 

Before Townshed came along, farmers would always have some fields left fallow while they recovered and regained vital nutrients ready to be farmed on again. Townshend’s method of farming meant that fields no longer had to be left fallow and so this greatly increased the amount of food that was produced.

By rotating the type of crop grown in each field each year, it meant that different nutrients were being taken out of the soil and from different depths. For example, Townshend would grow turnips one year which grow in deep soil, followed by barley the following year which roots remain much closer to the surface. This allows the soil below to recover and regain nutrients without the field being left empty. Not only allowing the soil to rest, growing a variety of crops also helps to naturally replace nutrients in the soil.

This idea completely changed and improved how people ran their farms. You may notice that your garden probably doesn’t consist of four fields that you can rotate, but the basic principles can be carried over to a smaller scale in order to keep your soil in good condition. Follow our tips below and you can become the Viscount Townshend of your very own garden!

  • Find your four areas – Even the smallest gardens can benefit from crop rotation, you just need four separate beds. Choose your four areas and draw a basic map of them. This can then be used when planning and keeping track of what to plant when and where. Naming the sections A, B, C and D can help keep it organised.
  • Understand your vegetable families – Knowing which family vegetables belong in is essential to crop rotation as the process is based on avoiding growing plants from the same family in the same patch year after year. The best approach is to choose your favourite vegetables, see what family they fall in and try to find four of your favourites from different families.
  • High demand vs low demand plants – It is important to know which vegetables are going to steal all the nutrients from your soil and which ones are not quite as greedy. Tomatoes, cabbage, corn and onions are some of the greedy vegetables, whereas potatoes, root vegetables and herbs are less demanding. The legume family are good for adding nitrogen to the soil with their nitrogen fixation properties, which gives them the ability to take nitrogen in from the atmosphere and add it to the soil.

Once you have learnt a bit about which family your chosen vegetables come from and how greedy they are when it comes to nutrients, you can choose a four course rotation that suits your taste best – there is no point growing a vegetable that you don’t want to eat! To get you started though, we have chosen some teams below so if you follow these rough categories, you shouldn’t go far wrong:

  • Team A - Leafy Athletic Star Players - Cabbage, Broccoli, Spinach, Lettuce..
  • Team B – Fruity Town Star Players - Tomato, Peppers, Cucumber, Corn..
  • Team C – Rooty Rovers Star Players - Turnips, Onions, Carrots…
  • Team D – Legume City Star Players - Beans, peas, clover..

Choose your favourites from each team and get planting and rotating! Once you get the hang of it just keep choosing more of your favourite vegetables to swap into your rotation and you can keep on enjoying the tasty treats from your nice fertile soil. You are now the revolutionary Viscount Townshend of your very own vegetable garden, congratulations! Now go and practice crop rotation in your vegetable garden and reap the benefits.

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