In the final analysis, all of the rotational factors we’ve mentioned—nutrients, pests, diseases, cultivation, allelopathy, and stimulating the soil community—are interrelated. The connections between different plant communities in nature are complex and stable; the good gardener will do well—and have fun—figuring out a combination of plants and planting schemes that meets as many of the different goals of rotational planning as possible. In general, the more units or steps you have in your rotation, the more subtle you can be with the combinations, and the more options for planning you’ll have. Something as simple as dividing each plot into subsections can make a big difference.
Thus, treating half of each of four plots separately effectively creates eight plots and makes it possible to give more subtle treatment to each group of plants. If you have a hard time keeping records, just take pictures of the beds each season, and mark on the back which plot and what year each photo is. You’ll end up with a nice scrapbook as well as a rotation reference. Sketch a quick schematic plan: that, too, can be very helpful later on.
Taking what we’ve discussed on the individual rotation pages, let’s set up a sample rotation for a four bed garden. In this case we will include cover crops, and divide each of the four plots in half so that those crops within each group that require a little more pampering can be given the best-prepared area, and receive a bit of special attention. Remember that this is just one of many possibilities; I designed it for my garden, in my climate. Your own plan should take the particulars of your own situation into account.
In this discussion, each plot has two parts, which we’ll call A and B. The plants in part B get a little extra attention, usually in the form of extra compost. (Though, when available, we spread an inch or so of mellow compost over the entire plot every spring.) This is a record of one plot over four years. To visualize the full rotation, just keep in mind that each of these crop sequences is happening in one of the four plots each season. Also keep in mind that, since crop rotation is an ongoing process, it can be entered (for purposes of our analysis) at any point.
We start the fall before the year of leaf crops (Fall O for the sake of discussion). Make an application of manure at three bushels per hundred square feet, turn it under, lime if necessary, then sow annual ryegrass. If manure (or an equivalent amount of compost) isn’t available, use bagged organic fertilizer at full label application rates.
If the ryegrass survives the winter (it doesn’t here) it should be mowed, then turned under a month before spring planting. Otherwise it can be left until planting time to act as a mulch. Compost is applied if available with B getting the lion’s share. Then A is planted to cabbage family plants, also known as brassicas, while lettuce and salad greens are grown in B.
After harvest of the last succession of salad greens (see below for a discussion of succession planting), and while the brassicas are still growing, sow the appropriate cover crop for the particular soil and climate conditions (we use alsike clover because of our soil type). This should be done by the beginning of September at the latest in our garden.
Turn under the clover a month before planting, then set the tomato family plants in A and squash family plants in B. A handful of bone meal or rock phosphate (which is much cheaper) mixed into the bottom of the planting hole when these plants are set out will guarantee plenty of phosphorus for a bountiful fruit set and prompt maturity. A shovelful of compost can be mixed into all the planting holes, but the squashes should get preference.
After harvest, sow annual ryegrass to the whole plot, and lime if necessary; if you have wood ash, use it instead, as ashes are high in the potassium that root crops love.
Turn under the dead ryegrass and spread an inch or so of compost on B. Plant the true root crops in A; they can get by on the remaining fertility. Onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, and celeriac are not true root crops and need more nitrogen to yield well; they should be put in B.
Follow the early plantings of root crops in A with buckwheat (during the frost-free period) and then annual ryegrass; later plantings can be followed directly by the ryegrass. Lime, if necessary, to keep the pH around 6.5 to 7.0. In B plant clover as soon as the onions are harvested; do not lime.
Turn under the dead ryegrass in A and plant peas, then beans once the frost is gone. Turn under the cover crop in B a month before planting potatoes and corn. Put a shovelful of compost onto each hill at planting time.
Fall 4 (same as Fall O):
Keep A in peas and beans (or other legumes) until fall, then plant annual ryegrass. After harvesting potatoes from B, sow ryegrass on the open ground and among the maturing corn plants. Lime, if necessary.
In our garden a number of minor crops are interspersed with these major vegetables: dill and other herbs are grown with the brassicas; parsley and basil go among the tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers; fast-growing greens like arugula and cress are grown in concert with the early climbing peas. As long as they are kept with their companions throughout the rotation, any number of these small-space crops can be worked in without disturbing the plan.
To see this show how this sample rotation would look with all four plots pictured here is a plan: