One of the most common occurrences with gardeners is that they leave a massive amount of space empty in their gardens every year. This happens with new and seasoned growers alike. All that empty space means you’re not getting the best return on your investment…and it’s not for lack of planning. Keep your garden plentiful with a well-designed crop plan.

Dedicated growers will spend hours and hours trying to create a solid garden plan only to discover midseason that there is a lot of unused space. That unused space isn’t just a strike against your time, money, and effort. It’s also not ideal for your soil. Soil is precious, and seasoned growers know—gardeners grow soil, not plants.

The best thing you can do for you and your garden is to learn how to maximize your harvest yields by using every square inch of space. To do that, you need one thing: a solid crop plan.

However, this is what most growers create for a crop plan, and it isn’t a crop plan at all:

The Difference Between a Crop Plan and A Garden Map

This is a garden map. The difference between a garden map and a crop plan is that a crop plan is like a video of your entire growing season and a garden map represents one frame of that video. The garden map you see above is one moment in time. The crop plan is the chart of all the points in time that something big needs to happen in your garden.

That doesn’t mean a garden map is useless. In fact, garden maps can help us understand and calculate proper plant spacing. It’s just that it alone cannot maximize your yields.

Once you begin building a crop plan that charts your entire season and creating garden maps during key points in time, you’ll not only see how many plants you can get in at one time. You’ll also see how many successions you can grow. This word throws a lot of new growers off, and it’s often confused with crop rotation. Even the definition of succession in farming is confusing for a lot of new growers so I’ve found it best to create the definition using an example. 

The Difference Between Succession & Crop Rotation

So what is a succession? Let’s say you are planting a smaller variety of radish in your garden starting in March and let’s say your climate lets you grow them all the way until the end of May. That’s three months or roughly 90 days. But the small radishes typically only take about 28-35 days to mature.

So you plant in March and then in April you’ve harvested. Instead of leaving that space bare for the next two months, you’ll plant another round of radishes in April and another in May. That’s three total. These ‘rounds’ are the successions, and a properly done crop plan gives you the insight into how many successions you can get from a given crop.

Crop rotation is something entirely different. Crop rotation basically means that if you plant your cucumbers in bed 1 this year, you don’t plant them or any other members of that plant family in that bed again next year. In fact, your crop rotation should be on a four year cycle. So ideally, you’ll have four garden beds.

Crop rotation helps keep our gardens healthy in a number of different ways. The first is that crops have varying nutritional requirements. So let’s say, for example, that you always plant corn in the same place. Corn is notorious for being a heavy nitrogen feeder, so over time, the soil you plant your corn in will be depleted of nitrogen. By rotating the crops, you’re helping to keep your soil nutrients levels more in balance.

Using Crop Rotation In Small Gardens

But what if you only have two garden beds? That’s okay. The goal would then be to subdivide the beds into two so you have four equal parts. You’ll plant the cucumbers in the first section of bed 1 the first year, the second section of bed 1 the second year, then move to the second bed the third and fourth year, cutting that bed in two sections as well.

Crop rotation also helps suppress pests and diseases. If you plant tomatoes in the same place every year, those tomato hornworms are going to know exactly where to go to get their next meal. By planting them somewhere new each year, you’re making those pests and diseases work that much harder to get your food.

Create A Crop Plan For Garden Success

With a well designed crop plan, you can easily rotate your crops without having to redo your crop plan every year and recalculate how many plants and seeds you’re going to need. To learn more on creating a well designed crop plan, check out the Beginner Crop Planning Micro Course.