Check in weekly, on Wednesdays, to read our new post on gardening, harvesting, and making use of that fine, extra-local produce! We’ll share tips and techniques, gleaned from our urban farms and gardens. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any topics you’d like us to cover.
Vegetable crops can be divided into groups according to their crop “families.” Much like with human families, these groupings indicate connections between plants. Plants that flower and fruit in similar ways are considered to be part of the same family. Plants within a family also tend to use similar nutrients from the soil, contract the same diseases, and draw the same insect pests.
Because of their shared nutrient needs as well as pest and disease problems, it’s great to be aware of the plant families within your garden. On a large garden or farm scale, grouping crops in the same family and rotating them from year to year is a good strategy to slow nutrient depletion as well as decrease pests and disease.
In a small garden, a crop rotation may not make much sense, since plant roots may intersect even with the best laid rotation plans. In a small garden space, plant disease and pests may overwinter and return throughout the garden, rather than just isolated within a crop family. And a rotation may not take plants far enough from their previous year’s spot to keep them from picking up the same pests and disease.
For small gardens, the best plan is often to plant as much diversity as possible. Planting from lots of crop families spreads out the risk so that even when a disease or pest knocks back a particular crop family, others will thrive and produce a harvest. Additionally, moving crop types to new spots in the garden every year can help benefit soil health (for instance, don’t put a tomato plant in the exact same place every year). And companion planting, growing a variety of crops close to each other for various benefits, can also be a great way to grow a healthy small garden.
Here’s the crop family breakdown of some favorite vegetable garden plants:
Cole Crops (Brassicas)
Corn (Sweet, field, pop-)
Morning Glory (Convolvulaceae)