Gardening 101: Fall Gardens and Crop Rotation

For many of you who live further north, the summer growing season is just hitting its prime. But down here in central Texas, our gardens are winding down; my tomato plants have shriveled up in the heat and the cucumber plant is long gone.  It’s time to plant for the fall!  When you’re pulling out summer crops to make room for winter produce, you might be wondering how to set up your fall garden. Does it matter what you plant where?

In fact, it makes a big difference! Crop rotation is a key element to successful gardening. If you plant the same families of veggies in the same places, the soil will already be depleted of important nutrients and your plants won’t be able to flourish. Rotate your crop families, and your veggies will thrive.

The Nine Major Plant Families

When you’re planning your crop rotation, you need to decide what it is you really want to grow, and then figure out to which families those plants belong. These crops are grouped together in families because they require similar nutrients and/or are susceptible to similar diseases. Here are the most common veggies, fruits, and flowers that you might be growing in your backyard:

1. Onion Family:

Onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks

Photo by Nancy McClure

2. Sunflower Family:

Lettuce, sunflowers, and some leafy greens

3. Spinach Family:

Spinach, beets, and chard

4. Cucumber Family:

Cucumber, melons, squash, and gourds

5. Pea Family:

Peas and beans

6. Tomato Family:

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes

Photo by Ajith Kumar

7. Cabbage Family:

Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, kohlrabi, kale and many other leafy greens

8. Grass family:

Corn, wheat, oats, and rye

9. Carrot Family:

Carrots, celery, parsley, and parsnips

Setting Up Your Rotations

Ideally, you want to set up your garden on a three-year rotation plan.  For example, if you plant tomatoes in the north-east corner of your garden bed, you would want to wait three years before planting tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or potatoes in that same north-east corner, because all those veggies are in the same family.

This isn’t always possible, of course, due to space limitations and the fact that different veggies require different amounts of space to grow.  But that’s the ideal.  It may be helpful to get out some plain white paper or graph paper and plan out your garden for the fall, keeping in mind the nine crop families, as well as the principles of companion planting.

Photo by Logan Ingalls

What to Plant

If you’re wondering what you can plant in your fall garden, Mother Earth News has a great online tool called What to Plant NowYou can choose your geographic region and then choose the month of the year, and it will tell you what you can plant now – indoors as seeds, outdoors as transplants, and outdoors as seeds.

Use this tool together with crop rotation and companion planting and your garden will have a much better chance of success.

Have you started a fall garden? What are you planning to grow? I have acorn and butternut squash on the brain…

About Katie

Katie loves to learn about natural living, and believes that caring for the earth and caring for yourself don't have to be mutually exclusive. She loves to help other people understand how they can both contribute to and benefit from a switch to a more natural and organic lifestyle. She is a stay-at-home mom and a native Texas girl, happily married to her best friend.

Comments

  1. Perfect timing! We just dug up our potatoes, are about to add some compost and throw in as many greens, herbs, beets, and hopefully turnips as we can manage. I’d love to see something on building hoop houses over beds if anyone has some experience. :)
    Shannon´s latest post: Putting Food By Focus- Canning Tomatoes

  2. I’m thinking about getting some garlic in for next summer, but I still have time for that.

    Yesterday my neighbor brought over three big bags of fresh herbs and TONS of tomatoes. Now that is some crop rotation I could get into! :)
    Aimee @ Simple Bites´s latest post: 9 Good Reasons to Can Your Own Food

  3. The “What to Plant Now” resource is great for me, since I just moved and have no idea what grows when here. I’m a little bummed that we’re past the acorn squash growing season! I’ll have to enjoy the ones that show up at the market and plan better for next year!

  4. Thanks for the info and the link. It just started to get really cold overnight here, and I was wondering about what I can keep in my garden and what to plant. Great timing!

  5. I love the What to Plant Now tool! I’ve been hoping to plant some garlic this fall, along with potatoes, chard, and onions.
    Jeanne´s latest post: Peanut Butter Cookies

  6. This will be so helpful when planning my gardens for the next couple of years. Thank you!
    Jennifer Lavender´s latest post: Switching to “No-’Poo”

  7. I love your articles on gardening. Of course, it’s never ‘winter’ in Hawai’i, but I still always learn so much. It’s been tough getting my garden off the ground – and it’s already in beds! But I’m encouraged hearing other people’s experiences and keep trying.

    Thanks so much!
    Sandra Lee´s latest post: Buddhist teacher warns of impending environmental catastrophe

  8. Yes, I live up north and it is getting colder quicker than I thought. Bought a whole bunch of wild grass mixed seeds for wild plants and hoping to plant them soon. I am a beginning gardener so these tips will help me out a bit! The link to Mother Earth News was very helpful as well.
    Karen Ho Fatt´s latest post: Landmann Super Sky Fire Pit

  9. Thank you so very much for this info! In California, I have a little more summer left. My hubby just built an awesome raised veggie bed so I am thrilled to know about the crop rotation timing!
    Paula´s latest post: Simplifying is Not Always Simple

  10. Thanks for the suggestions. I know I’m too late to plant anything else by now, but your explanation of rotation is helpful. Of course, I am somewhat limited by space constraints, but do the best I can. Thanks also for your link to the online tool “What to Plant Now.” I will definitely put it to good use.

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    Publisher: BetterBenches.com
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  13. Nothing like getting ready for spring planting. Have you ever tried amending the soil (in a raised bed) so that you don’t have to worry about crop rotation as much?

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