One of my tasks at this time of year is to think about how I will rotate my vegetables next season, which involves moving them to a new spot. There is much advice out there as to how to do it, and not everyone has the same method. The reason you try to avoid putting the same plants in the same space two years in a row is that it can encourage a buildup of pests and diseases. Rotation doesn’t work for all pests (white butterflies will find the cabbages from a long way away), but some that live in the soil will only travel a few centimetres in their lifetime. Rotation also works well because most of the beasties do not eat a wide variety of plants, those that eat or infect lettuce will not enjoy a meal of beans or beets.

Plants have different root systems, for example, peas add nitrogen to the soil from the air and carrots delve deep to bring up minerals from the lower levels. A change of crop will mean the soil doesn’t become exhausted, ie drained of a particular set of nutrients. Linked to this is another reason for rotating, which is that crops need different types of feeding. If you make compost, put it onto the potato bed either (ideally) well before planting, though they cope if you put it on just before planting too. Peas, beans and brassicas also appreciate compost. Compost helps retain moisture in the soil, and it releases a balance of nutrients slowly so that the plants can absorb them. You can use farmyard manure the same way, but it needs to be more mature if used immediately, or heaped when fresh as it has more nitrogen. Lots of nitrogen is almost always too much of a good thing (more on this at some point). Carrots prefer a less rich, better-drained soil, and the roots may fork if sown on a bed with fresh manure or compost. So in the rotation, they follow peas, beans or brassicas in the next year, and get benefit from the left-overs from the previous crop’s compost.

A four-year rotation is often recommended if you have space such as an allotment. Veggies are divided into groups according to families, as many are related to one another or have similar growing requirements. The brassicas include cabbages, sprouts, broccoli, turnips and kale. Another group is the root crops, carrots, parsnips, onions, and beets. A third grouping is the legumes, the beans and peas. Finally, potatoes are in a class of their own simply because if your garden is big enough you are likely to grow lots of tatties compared to another veg. You will notice some plants haven’t been mentioned, things like salad crops, and if you want to make a fifth group you can call it the green leafy veg and include lettuce and spinach, and add the pumpkins and courgettes.

It can get a bit confusing. The amount of any one veg group that you grow depends more on the amount you and your family will eat, not necessarily on the space allotted. You may eat a few tatties but lots of peas and beans. If you have raised beds, the beds may not be of equal size. And you may be growing a few of some veg which just don’t fit neatly into any group, like the fifth group above. So some juggling will be necessary and don’t worry overly, just do your best. It never really works neatly in our garden. But that slight chaos creates some free spaces into which I put a few flowers to attract in helpful insects and brighten up all the greenery. Pot marigolds (calendulas), nasturtiums (tom thumbs), candytuft, and sweet williams all look wonderful and provide a feed for bees and hover flies, who will then pollinate your beans, eat the aphids, and gladden your heart. Win-win!