Channeling Amelia Bedelia to Rotate Crops

Is it obvious to people who don’t garden what it means to rotate crops? I can just imagine someone trying to figure out what to do to rotate, as in turn, their tomato plants, firmly rooted in the ground.

At least I can imagine what Amelia Bedelia would try to do.

Does anyone else remember Amelia Bedelia, the main character in a series of children’s books written by Peggy Parish until 1988, and then by her nephew Herman Parish?

Amelia had a certain knack for taking instructions and following them quite literally in a way that was never imagined by those instructing her.

When asked to ‘draw the drapes’, Amelia got out some paper and a pencil to draw a picture of the drapes. According to Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, Amelia also dressed the raw chickens in clothes, changed the towels by cutting them into different sizes, and put the lights out by unscrewing the light bulbs and hanging them outside on the clothes line.

What would Amelia do in a garden?

If we instructed her to get a new rose for a watering can, she would likely call a rosarian like Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings and ask her for advice on which rose a watering can would most like to have.

If we asked her to turn the compost pile, I can only imagine the effort she would put forth to get it turned 90 degrees to face another direction.

And if we asked her to rotate the crops, she might get out a shovel, dig up the plants, rotate them half way, and then replant them.

The reason I was thinking about crop rotation in the first place was because Earth Girl left a comment on my post about embracing vegetable gardens asking how I would rotate crops in a 4’ x 8’ raised bed.

My short answer is that I wouldn’t. Instead, I would add a second raised bed the next year, even a third bed, and then rotate crops between the beds each year. That’s “rotate” as in one year plant squash in a bed, then next year tomatoes, the next year beans, and so on.

We generally rotate crops for two main reasons, to control soil-borne plant diseases and some insects and to ensure we don’t completely deplete the soil of nutrients by planting the same crops in the same place every year.

In rotating crops, you should take into a account what plant family the crop is in, and try not to plant those from the same family in the same spot each year. You should also try to follow heavy feeding crops, like corn, with legumes, like beans, which actually add nitrogen back to the soil.

But if you only have time or space for one small raised bed, don’t despair that you can’t fully rotate your crops. Just remember to add compost if you have some, clear out crop debris at the end of each year, and fertilize through the growing season.

Speaking of raised beds, can you imagine if we asked Amelia Bedelia to build a raised bed in the garden? She’d probably haul out a headboard, a footboard, and a mattress, and raise it up on cinder blocks out in the middle of the lawn.

And how would Amelia embrace bugs, or soil, or plants for a happier life, let alone an entire vegetable garden?

I don’t want to even think what she might come back with if we asked her to go get a hoe.


Funny. I do remember reading those books to my daughter. I don't always remember to rotate my crops in the raised beds. That could be why my tomatoes weren't looking so good this year. Wonder what she would do if she was told to "pinch back the plants"?
Earth Girl said…
Thanks, Carol. I love your advice--more beds! I also loved the Amelia Bedelia books, as did my sons. I think she pruned the hedge in one book.
EAL said…
It's interesting, though as you know I don't grow edibles. But the issue of rotation is one that probably many home vegetable gardeners do not consider.
Anonymous said…
as a child, i was quite literal also, mom tells story about how when she said she was freezing, i thought she would turn into an ice cube
Diana said…
Such a creative and informative post, Carol. I laughed out loud. And thanks for the credit ... being the children's book expert that I am! I do what you do - I rotate among my 3 beds. Works great with the tomatoes and beans.
Anonymous said…
I'd completely forgotten about Amelia Bedelia!

I wonder if rotating crops is doable in a smaller garden?
Katie said…
Carol, your creativity never ceases to amaze me. Excellent hoe reference.
Anonymous said…
Earth Girl is right--Amelia did prune the hedge. That is, she stuck prunes all over it. Thanks for reminding us of her antics, Carol, and well done on the explanation of crop rotation.
Anonymous said…
Just read this book to my daughter in the past year. There is actually a garden segment - she is asked to "stake the bean plants" and she takes the family's dinner (still-raw steaks) out and hangs them on the bean bushes! :) I'm never very good at rotating crops since I only have a tiny space, but your advice seems really sound. I covet raised beds, maybe this is the year to pony up (or learn to hammer them together myself)!
Unknown said…
I've never heard of those books but they sound like books my daughter would like. I've been trying to rearrange our garden to make it more suitable for rotation. That's what I spent most of our 70 degree weekend doing.
Unknown said…
I love the spin you put on your topics, all of my girls have read her books!!!
Anonymous said…
Carol, you know when I was a new gardener I didn't understand what rotating the crops meant either. It took lots of reading and study. I loved this post. It made me smile to think of Amelia Bedelia would do in all of those situations. It was also very education. Thanks for the link love.~~Dee
This is a great post Carol. I just love the way your mind works.
Kathy said…
There is a lot of terminology in gardening that isn't immediately obvious. I suppose it's that way with any art, craft, or passion. I do know what a hem and a seam are, but not the difference between knitting and purling. (Call me blissfully ignorant.)

I had been gardening for years before I actually read a description of moist, well-drained soil, and I'm still not 100% sure what poor soil is, as in nasturtiums bloom better in poor soil.
Shady Gardener said…
Cute post!! Amelia Bedelia was one of our favorites in 2nd grade! ;-)
Growing up in a farming community, I learned early on about crop rotation, but I can see how that, and other gardening terms, could be confusing. The one that gets me the most funny looks when I mention it to novice gardeners is "deadhead." I'm afraid to think about what Amelia would do with that. (I think tiny tie-dyed T-shirts would be involved.)
Anonymous said…
We gardeners, like any other tribe, speak our own language. I've seen new gardeners confused by terms like "heeling in" bushes and trees, or "mudding in" seedlings. How does one go about double-digging (unless one is a twin?) And, we shudder to think what Amelia Bedelia might do if told to go hoeing.
Cindy, MCOK said…
If told to prune the shrubs, would Amelia Bedelia hang dried plums from the branches? I enjoyed this post, Carol ... having read those books to my kids when they were younger, it brought back memories.
Anonymous said…
OMG... you're cracking me up! Now I'll have this concept going in my head for weeks. LOL
Rose said…
I remember Amelia--my daughters loved this series of books. Thanks for the chuckles, Carol:) Speaking of rotating crops, all I ever worry about is rotating the tomatoes, even more important this year since I had tomato wilt last year. I tend to plant green beans in about the same place every year--is that ok?
Unknown said…
I remember her! Gosh, i had forgotten all bout those books.
Carol Michel said…
Sounds like I'm not the only one channeling Amelia. Thanks all for the nice comments!

(Rose, I would also move the beans around... let other plants have some of that nitrogen they fixed in the soil. Plus, I move mine around to confuse the rabbits.)

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
I think I enjoyed Amelia Bedelia as much as my children did growing up. I am having fun introducing her to the grandkids.

Tomatoes are the only thing I try to rotate, but I guess basil would do well to move also.
Meems said…
Always making me chuckle, Carol! I've learned so many practical gardening how-to's from you... it is invaluable what you offer. Thank you!

I have been swirling this rotating crop method around in my head for the last several weeks as I decide what/where to plant in my new beds. Crop rotation was one of the main reasons I knew I needed more beds. I'm still a little confused about whether to call each season a year. If I pull out plants in June/July, ready the soil with compost and turning for the next crop in September -- would you rotate each time you plant or just every spring? Logically speaking I'm thinking each time I plant - spring and fall??? Any thoughts on this would be helpful.
Meems @ Hoe and Shovel
Anonymous said…
Those were my favorite series of books as an adolescent. What a mess she would make of the garden, lol.
Anonymous said…
I vividly remember AB putting out the lights. I need to get one of those books for my niece! Thanks for the memories and the image of AB rotating the crops...too funny.
Anonymous said…
Amelia Bedelia: I immediately thought about her "putting out the lights." It's been a few years. My kids are grown now. Thanks for the memories. The only vegetable I grow is tomato and I rotate it every year, just to be safe.
Very clever post! I have always loved Amelia Bedelia. We even bought "Amelia Bedelia learns to drive" for beginning drivers. Great sense of humor!
Garden Lily said…
Very cute. How about Amelia Bedelia Makes Compost Tea? Hopefully not with crumpets.