Even in a home garden, you want to maximize your harvest both in abundance and quality. One of the best ways to do that? Crop rotation, which simply means changing up the planting locations of fruits and vegetables each season.
According to Doug Higgins and Kristin Krokowski, writing for Wisconsin Horticulture of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, crop rotation is one of agriculture's oldest practices. Crop rotation helps reduce damage from pests, can limit vegetable diseases and helps the soil stay fertile.
Crops in the same plant family shouldn't be planted in the same space year after year. For example, Wisconsin Horticulture explains since peppers, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes are in the same plant family, known as Solanacaeae or nightshade, they shouldn't be planted in the same area where one or more were planted the previous season.
To maximize the benefits of rotation, they recommend not planting from the same plant family in an area for three to four years.
Here are some examples of plant families so you know which ones to avoid planting in the same space for future seasons:
--Mustard family: turnips, broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower.
--Carrot family: carrots, parsnips celery and parsley.
--Gourd family: watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin, summer and winter squash.
--Pea family: kidney beans, lima beans, peas, soybeans and pole beans.
--Onion family: onions, garlic, chives and leeks.
--Goosefoot family: beets, spinach and Swiss chard.
--Sunflower family: sunflowers, lettuce and endive.
Maximize your garden's seasonal potential by having a growing plan.
For example, gardeners in the Northeast can pull early cool weather crops like peas, broccoli and greens in July and then "sow a second planting that will be ready for harvest in early September, when the temperatures begin to cool and the days gets shorter," says Sharon DiLorenzo, program manager for Capital Roots, a community gardens service project, whose vision is to provide everyone with access to fresh, affordable and healthy food.
DiLorenzo, a longtime gardener and "flower addict," says warm weather crops, including cucumbers, summer squash, turnips and carrots, can be sown in July. This is also a good time to find a large selection of seeds at local garden centers at discounted prices.
*Up, Up, Up
Home gardens often lack in planting space so be savvy about your growing.
"You may want to employ the block or square foot gardening method, which uses stakes and frames to grow crops vertically," says DiLorenzo, who suggests using stakes and cages to support tomato plants, for example, which can reduce the amount of space between plants.
She advises using that extra space to expand your selections, such as planting basil near the tomatoes, which may enhance the tomatoes' flavor.
Even melons and cucumbers can be grown vertically. Simply tie up the fruit with a cloth sling, which gently cradles them and prevents bruising.
Some crops do double duty.
"Growing pole beans at the base of your corn provides benefits to both crops -- the corn utilizes the nitrogen fixed in the soil by the beans and the beans use the corn as a trellis," says DiLorenzo, explaining roots crops can be planted in 4-by-4 square spaces, which yields more than growing them in rows.
Though your fruits and veggies feed you, be sure to feed your garden, too.
Keep the soil healthy by adding organic matter each fall. If spaces allows, collect fallen leaves and create your own compost pile.
"Using an organic mulch, like paper covered with straw, around your crops and on your paths ensures a regular addition of organic matter every year," says DiLorenzo, noting the mulch will also suppress weeds, retain moisture and help keep the garden looking tidy and organized.