Introduction to Companion Planting and Crop Rotation

When planning your next garden planting it is wise to reflect on the previous year's crops and where they were planted.  It is vital that you are rotating your crops in your zone 1 annual gardens. If your garden features the same plants in the same places year after year, pest pressures will build, soils will become depleted, and disease will run rampant. I rotate my annuals in such a way that the soil and plants benefit. For example, I follow my greedy feeders of nitrogen in the plots where I was growing nitrogen fixing peas and beans.

Crop Rotation Schedule

  • Potatoes
  • Legumes (Peas and Beans)
  • Brassicas (Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower) & N-Feeders
  • Salad and Root Veggies
  • Legumes
  • N-Feeders (Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucurbits)

Keyhole Garden (Potatoes, Brassicas, Onions, Leeks)

I have (6) zone 1 plots where I can rotate annuals. In this schedule after year 1, those plants in plot #1 go to plot #2, plot #2 goes to plot #3 and so on. Plot #6 plants go back to plot #1. I break up each of my plots equally in two blocks, so plants in plot #1 block A will move to Plot #2 block A the following year. I try to loosely follow this broad crop rotation schedule to avoid depleting minerals and nutrients, understanding that it is impossible to follow the rotation schedule exactly when you are grouping multiple plants together.

Companion Planting

There are certain plants that benefit each other by being planted in close proximity to one another. One simple rule of thumb that mostly works is if they cook well together, they usually grow well together like basil and tomatoes. There are others that you should keep apart. For the most part, I like to group multiple plants together for the mutual benefits, but also the pest confusion. For example, a healthy dose of onions and leeks around my potato patch helped me to avoid the dreaded potato beetle.

Plot #1

Block A: Brassicas, Potatoes, Onions, Leeks

Block B: Brassicas, Sweet Potatoes, Onions, Leeks

Plot #2

Block A: Beans, Spinach, Eggplant, Lettuce

Block B: Watermelon, Corn, Radish, Beans (Modified 3 Sisters, radish early season)

Plot #3

Block A: Eggplant, Beans, Peppers, Nasturtium

Block B: Squash, Corn, Beans, Radish, Watermelon (3 Sisters, radish early)

Plot #4

Block A: Lettuce, Radish, Beans, Carrots, Geraniums

Block B: Cucumbers, Radish, Nasturtium, Peas, Squash, lettuce

Plot #5

Block A: Spinach, Peas, Beans

Block B: Corn, Cucumbers, Beans, Squash, Soybeans, Sunflowers (Modified 3 Sisters)

Plot #6

Block A: Peppers, Tomatoes, Geraniums, Basil, Marigolds

Block B: Tomatoes, Carrots, Basil, Onions, Marigolds

Modified three sisters using short blue corn, watermelon, and bush beans. The watermelon needs more sun than squash so the short corn is a nice complement, and the bush beans work well as the short blue corn does not provide as steady of a trellis.

So with some pre-planning and thought into what will be planted where, you can provide a more balance soil quality, avoid pests and disease, and have an overall better harvest with less inputs and work.  Take a moment to share your experiences with companion planting and various crop rotations and I look forward to reading your comments.

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Hi Paul, This is the first year that I have space for a full garden and I have TONS of questions.  I'm in the pacific northwest in a zone 8 USDA region (I think??)
First, the previous owners had goats and didn't clean out the goat "barn" (more of a shed).  There is about a foot and a half of compacted manure and with layers of straw bedding.  It's been there at least 6 months since the property was vacant. I started building a raised bed using a sheet mulch technique I read about with cardboard and then about 6-8" of the manure, but now I'm worried that it might "burn the plants".  I haven't added any other layers to the bed yet, because I'm wondering if I should remove some of the manure and compost it longer. It also doesn't break up well despite attacking it with a rake and pitchfork.  Any suggestions?

My second question is about the structure around raised beds; specifically if one is necessary.  I have been trying to build up the soil instead of tilling down and I like the idea of having mounds so I don't have to bend all the way down.  Aside from elevating the bed, is there an advantage to building a box around it or is mounding the bed 1-2 feet high without a structure ok?  I'm trying to do this without too many off-site inputs.

Also, you talk above about N-feeders and different categories of annuals.  Can you suggest a good source for information on individual plants?  The seed catalogs I've read don't do a great job of explaining the needs and synergies between plants.


Manure has to compost a good year or two before it will not burn.  When it has been compacted, water can't get into it. Compacting slows the composting down.  Mix in 50% organics (grass clippings, wood chips or compost) water it every week or two and wait a year.  You can soak the manure in water for a day or two and use the tea w/o the solids, but it is kind of nasty. Steer tea was the old school liquid fertilizer.  The remaining washed solids compost quickly, a month or two.The advantage to sides on your beds is height with a flat planting surface.  You can build higher than with a mound & furrow.  Taller beds get better drainage and warmer soil.  They run on the dry side.  If you want to go to 2 feet w/o sides I suggest Huggel mounds.  Sep Holtzer builds 'em six feet high.
I wouldn't stress about nitrogen feeders and companion plants and all that.  Just try to plant something new and different one a week.  Plant stuff you'd like to eat, and eat it. Plant stuff that costs more in the store.  Plant stuff that you've had success with in the past.  Plant perennials whenever you can, or try to bridge seasons on your annuals and get 'em to go to seed.  There is time to learn about the permaculture ideas, but the biggest idea is to just do it… on a regular basis. 

TME,I'm having problems with the comment section.
Technical difficulties.
E-mail me.

"the biggest idea is to just do it… on a regular basis. "
For the tallest man on earth: Definitely read widely and learn from others, but part of the learning process is trial and error at your specific site. Sites can differ greatly even in adjacent properties.
The learning process is aided by keeping records for reference: planting maps, note soil prep techniques, dates of setting out young plants or planting seeds, note varieties, note the weather, last frost date, first frost date (if applicable), temp., rainfall, what plants do well for you, what doesn’t, pest issues and resolution, etc.
By paying attention to these details, you will become an ‘expert’ of your own garden, increase your productivity and efficiency.
Have fun!

I don't think that goat manure mixed with straw will burn anything. It is not like chicken manure in that respect. Plus it is not at all fresh. Really good stuff IMHO

Fresh goat manure is one of the hottest just below turkey. It is fantastic for organic growing with a high nitrogen content. Horse manure has a lot of hay mixed in but still heats up well in a compost pile. We compost everything before it goes into the garden. Usually 6 months to a year.  

They’re short, easily readable, and together comprise a wealth of information. Thanks!

Good ideas Phil.
One question, does your rotation show potatoes after tomatoes?  I thought they were in the same family.

CAH & Woodman,
Thank you for the positive feedback on the articles.

Yes, potatoes and tomatoes are both in the nightshade family. If you want to have another legume rotation, you could sandwich legumes in between. I already get more beans than I need, so I don't do that.    

The companion planting makes the crop rotation much more complicated and impossible to make your crops perfectly rotated. I have not had problems with tomatoes following potatoes. Having said that, I am not only planting potatoes and only planting tomatoes. I've got flowers, herbs, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower mixed in there as well, not to mention clover fixing nitrogen.  

The other issue I run into is bean and peas are great for the soil, but it is typically the heavy nitrogen feeders that I want to grow the most of in my garden, so I try to balance the needs of the soil with my needs as well.

The bottom line is if you can have a great variety of diversity, and move that diversity around with plants that grow well together you'll do well.