Gardening Tips Week 21: Beautiful Chaos

What to do this week

You may think crop rotation is only for big farming operations, but you have a lot to gain from doing it too. It is just as important in a backyard garden. If you plant the same things in the same spots year after year there will be a build up of soil pests and disease organisms which will eventually impact the health of your crops. That is why you want to change things around as much as you can.

To do it right, you have to go back to high school in your mind and try to remember what veggies are in the same family. That’s because plants that are in the same family will be susceptible to the same diseases and pests. If you plant them in the same spot year after year, these diseases and pests will eventually win. If you plant other things from the same family, not knowing about that relationship, you will also see the diseases and pests win. Potato beetles, for example, will very happily eat tomato plants, as both tomatoes and potatoes are in the nightshade family. (So are peppers and eggplant, by the way.)

Source: A Free Range Life, Annabel Langbein

Source: A Free Range Life, Annabel Langbein

Another important plant grouping is the squash family, which includes cucumbers, melons, squashes and zucchini. They share many characteristics: they are heavy feeders, they are susceptible to the cucumber beetle and they are subject to the same mildews and molds. You don’t want to plant any of these family members in the same place you planted a relative last year.

Another family that is important to remember is the legume family, which includes beans — both bush and pole — peas, soybeans, and runner beans. They are also the same family as clovers, although I don’t think many people plant clover. I just find these things interesting to know.

Another family is the brassicas. Members include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and certain kinds of kale. In fact, they are not just related, they are actually the same species. Other related species in the family include radishes, turnip, mustards, collard greens and Brussels sprouts.

Beets, spinach and chard are all in the chenopodium family. Beets and chard are actually the same species too.

Carrots are in the apiaceae family, sometimes called umbelliferaes. They are related to parsnip and fennel and dill.

Another reason you rotate crops is to use different parts of the soil nutrient profile. Squashes, for example, have very shallow roots. They use the top part of the soil and really like it nitrogen rich. Most of the brassicas have long tap roots, so they use nutrients from deeper down. They don’t use as much nitrogen but they do need more phosphorous. If you rotate your crops you will be better able to make maximum use of your full soil profile.

Many urban gardens are so small you might think you are not going to be able to do much rotation. Obviously, moving your row of tomatoes a foot is not going to make a big difference. You can still help to break the pest cycle by mixing up crops from different families. You can plant a row of carrots between rows of onions, for example. That way, the carrot rust fly will be confused by the smell of the onions and perhaps not find your carrots. This is called “interplanting.” (You couldn’t possibly farm like that. You would have to be changing your equipment or your production methods from one row to another, but a bunch of onions and one row of carrots, repeated, is not complicated at all in a backyard garden.)

The idea is to mix it up as much as you can and keep the pests guessing. It’s a method I like to call “beautiful chaos.”

Featured image: Small-scale crop rotation at the Ecological Garden at Odder by Sten, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.




Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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