Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Crop Rotation for beginners

Firstly thank you all - my readership for staying with this blog while it develops. I really appreciate it - and all the lovely (and critically encouraging) comments I've received so far - face-to-face and by email. I was honestly really heartened to see that more and more people are following this. Cheers.

Here's a photo of our half plot, which was taken last week. I've called this post 'Crop Rotation for Beginners'. I'm not sure that covers it, but we have to start somewhere, don't we?

It's a bit of a scruffy picture - but if you look carefully it reveals quite a few labour and cost saving techniques which may be useful to you on your own patch.

A year ago, this square plot was covered in nettles, brambles and bindweed. Using the black plastic techniques described in the post 'Reclaiming a derelict allotment' I prepared it for planting. As you can see it is now divided into seven fairly rough looking beds with a path in the middle made of cardboard with wood chip on top.

We are not the 'Ideal Homes' exhibition, so although I like pretty gardens - I also like things that work. Keeping our eye on the ball here - our main goal is easy and reasonably priced organically grown produce - not keeping up with the Joneses. If you're taking your vegetables home though, don't forget to put the largest and loveliest ones on the top of your basket!

A path like this is quick and cheap to make because the cardboard comes free with a parcel, and every now and then someone deposits wood chip on our allotment site which we don't have to pay for. The path usually only lasts a season, but I find this is okay as it is early days for this half plot, and I don't want beds that are set in stone, as I may decide to make them larger or smaller according to our needs at a later date. I also want to observe and learn from the soil and the weather as I go along. Partly in the interests of general efficiency but also because it calms the mind.

Looking at the picture - starting in the far left hand corner and moving around the plot in a clockwise direction we currently have a bed of leeks, followed by garlic planted in October, autumn planted onions just sprouting and still covered in netting to keep the birds off, more leeks, an empty bed ready for planting, garlic, and more leeks.

This square plot also has a Comfrey bed at the edge (out of the picture on the right) and if you look carefully you can see that it is edged by small bushes which are Cherry Plums (I'll come back both the Cherry Plums and the Comfrey in later posts). Now these are pretty (or they will be when they flower in February).

The beds are very simply constructed. They are nothing more than mounds of earth with sloping sides. If you have a large area to deal with (we have one whole plot and a half plot), or your budget doesn't stretch to timber or reconstituted plastic raised beds, making them like this is a good option. The leeks have grown really well so far. You can see a few weeds around them, I did hand weed them a bit when they were smaller but when the cold weather set in, I didn't really bother and it doesn't seem to have done them much damage.

Of course there's a lot to say about crop rotation - we'll touch on this again or you can read more about it in some of the books I've mentioned. Basically though it means not planting things in the same place season after season and year after year.
So as far as this square plot is concerned, I will have to think through exactly which crops I am going to plant in the seven beds in the picture once the existing crops are taken out and eaten.
I would imagine we will have finished off all the leeks by the end of February, so I will need to have seedlings ready in my plug planters to plant out in the leek beds by March(ish). Right.

I don't know yet what these are going to be yet (something to think about on those cold winter nights by the fire). I might have to go back to my seed organiser board - have a look what I've got and maybe order some new ones. If I'm following a good crop rotation system though, I'll bear one thing in mind:

Most of the crops currently growing on this half plot belong to the onion (Allium) family so whatever comes after this should be a member of a different plant family, potatoes for example (which, along with tomatoes belong to the Solanceae family).

Why go to all this trouble? It makes sense to me now to move crops around. You remember the slight touch of leek rust that I told you about last month? As I found out it is a fungal disease, and if I grew leeks (or onions) or other crops in that plant family in the same place all the time, it is fairly likely that this particular disease would gain more of a hold in the soil. So instead I understand it is better to ring the changes and put other crops in that are not susceptible to this particular thing. Simple.

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