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Garden rotation at Potawot Food Gardens

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Crop Rotation is a gardening practice in which different crops are planted in different areas of the field each year to prevent soil deterioration. This method can improve soil fertility and structure with the right technique. The herb and vegetable gardens at Potawot Indian Health Facility Potawot use the method of crop rotation as a part of their organic gardening routine.[1]

Figure 1 Crops at Potawot Photo by Meghan Heintz
Figure 2 Sample Garden Rotation Chart from World War II Open-source Photo

Why is it Important?

Rotating crops is an important part of sustainable organic gardening. Without crop rotation the soil is weakened by one crop repeatedly season after season taking out specific nutrients from the soil. Also without crop rotation specific pests and pathogens will build up in the crop growing area. Soil weakening can be avoided by changing the crops season to season because the different crops pull out different nutrients from the soil and attract different pests and pathogens. A poster from WWII explains the basics of crop rotation in Figure 2. During that time when many citizens had victory gardens crop rotation was essential because pesticides were not available during rationing.


Plants in different taxonomic groups are rotated to ward off pests. These taxonomic groups are divided into the groups heavy feeders, light feeders and soil improves. Heavy feeders deplete the soil nutrients and must be followed with light feeders or soil improvers. Light feeders also deplete the soil nutrients but to a lesser extent and must be followed by either light feeders or soil improvers. Soil improvers do exactly what they say they do and can follow any of the three catagories, i.e. the only group that heavy feeders can follow as well as light feeders and soil improvers. Figure 3 explains which group can follow which group. These designations generally mean deep-rooted plants are rotated with shallow rooted plants. Also, certain plants renew different nutrients i.e. legumes (like a kidney bean or lentil) replenish nitrates in the ground. The microorganisms in the legume's roots return the nitrates [2]. Cereals need nitrate rich soil, therefore it is beneficial to plant legumes before cereals. In ideal conditions it is best to wait three years to plant the same crop in the same location again. Crop rotation techniques ultimately vary depending on the soil quality, precipitation and climate. A sample crop rotation chart can be viewed at Figure 4.

Figure 3 Garden Rotation Figure by Meghan Heintz
Figure 4 Example Garden Rotation Chart

The different families are as follows

  • Legume (Peas, Fava Beans, ect.) Soil Improvers
  • Mint (Basil, Sage, ect.) Soil Improvers
  • Alliums (Onions, Garlic, ect.) Heavy Feeders
  • Grass (wheat, Rice, ect.) Heavy Feeders
  • Nightshade (Eggplant, Tomatoes, ect.) Heavy Feeders
  • Umbel (Carrot, Dill, ect.) Light Feeders
  • Composite (Lettuce, Artichokes, ect.) Heavy Feeders
  • Crucifer (Radishes, Turnips, ect.) Light Feeders
  • Goosefoot (Beets, Chard, ect.) Light Feeders
  • Squash (Winter Squash, Pumpkins, ect.) Heavy Feeders

At Potawot

Figure 5 Crop Rotation Chart Spring 2007 at Potawot Figure Courtesy of Eddie Shonnie
Figure 6 Crop Rotation Chart Winter 2007 at Potawot Figure Courtesy of Eddie Shonnie
Figure 7 Crop Rotation Chart Winter 2008 at Potawot Figure Courtesy of Eddie Shonnie

At Potawot [3] crop rotation is implemented to maintain an organic pesticide free garden. The gardens grow a variety of different crops including artichokes, sugar snap peas, broccoli, carrots, celery, chard, tomatoes and many others. Unique to the small organic farm, strawberries are grown every year in a different part of the field. Every winter a cover crop is grown to replenish the soil nutrients. Crop rotation charts are kept from previous seasons and utilized to plan the crops for next season. The most important rule in planning the next seasons crops is never to plant a crop in the same location until 3 years later. The charts also work to rotate cover crops throughout the garden to restore nutrients into the soil for future growing. Then the rotation charts are displayed in the blue volunteer house [[4]] showing in what week and what row to plant the crops. There are four main fields with varying number of rows in each. Figure 5,6 and 7 show the top two fields and their rotation cycles for three consecutive seasons.


"Gardening With The Helpful Gardener." Helpful Gardener. <http:/http://www.helpfulgardener.com/organic/2006/crop.html>.

Tanner, Eddie. The Humboldt Kitchen Gardener. Arcata, CA: Eddie Tanner, 2008. 16-31.

Shonnie, Eddie. Personal Contact. 28 October 2008.

"Potawot Community Food Gardens." California Area Indian Health Services. Federal Health Program for American Indians and Native Alaskans. 28 Oct. 2008


Ogden, Shepherd. Straight-Ahead Organic : A Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Great Vegetables in a Less Than Perfect World. New York: Chelsea Green, 1999.

Contact details

Writer: Meghan Heintz Email: Msh37@humboldt.edu <layout name="Project" />