We're having fun designing and testing a new crop rotation plan for both our annual vegetable gardens- the high tunnel greenhouse and the 1/2- acre "Potager" (kitchen garden with emphasis on veggies).
While I've shuffled crops around in past years, it's never been planned on paper in a way I could confidently refer to year after year. And, since our goals include more sustainable farm systems (sustainable= continuous, enduring), Josh and I spent a few winter afternoons doing just that- surveying and drawing the gardens; talking about past experiences; and blending the wisdom of favorite garden gurus (Elliot Coleman, Ed Smith, Mel Bartholomew...) with our love of systems. ...not to mention utilizing Josh's wonderful architectural skills.
Ta dah! We've got a plan!
And, yes..... just looking at it makes this elementary school teacher's heart happy.
Why Rotate Your Crops?
To keep a vegetable garden healthy, you want to avoid repeating the same planting plan in the same spot. This practice, called crop rotation, can feel a bit like juggling, but it's important to prevent crop-specific pests and diseases from building up and carrying over from one season to the next in the soil. If you move a crop, the problem has no host on which to live. In addition, rotation encourages better use of soil nutrients and amendments.
Ideally, plant a vegetable (or vegetable family) in a particular bed only one year out of a minimum of three. Taproot has space for a longer rotation cycle- meaning, for example, the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, etc...) won't be planted again in the same area for 9 years.
“From his experience as a researcher at Rutgers, Firmin Bear stated that well-thought-out crop rotation is worth 75 percent of everything else that might be done, including fertilization, tillage, and pest control.
To my mind, crop rotation is the most important practice in a multiple-cropping program." -Elliot Coleman ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
At the drawing board, Josh puzzled through our plan by shuffling labeled crop/plant family markers. The goal is to have plantings move in a logical order and direction (whether it’s left to right, front to rear, circular, etc...). We expect to improvise and innovate until it becomes fluid.
And when in doubt about a rotation, we'll just slip in a crop of beans, leafy greens or cover crop.
Notice each bed is labeled with a color (rotation group), a letter (north/east/south/west quadrant) and a bed number. That way we can accurately refer to planting areas when indoors planning or working with interns (~plus Tim gets to make more signs!)
and a simple way to design it on the computer (if you don't have a Josh :-) )
It is worth watching just to hear the fella's lovely English accent and hear him say "plahnt" and "toe-mah-toe".
Elliot Coleman's Four-Season Harvest is a favorite resource in our farm library. Here he offers some
Guidelines for Rotation :
1.) Separate similar crops or families of crops as much as possible.
Apiaceae (Carrot Family): carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family): lettuce, endive, radicchio
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family): cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, turnip, radish, Chinese cabbage, kale, collards, rutabaga
Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family): beet, Swiss chard, spinach
Convolvulaceae (Bindweed Family): sweet potato
Cucurbitaceae (Gourd Family): cucumber, muskmelon, watermelon, squash, pumpkin, gourd
Fabaceae (Pea Family): garden pea, snap bean, lima bean, soybean
Liliaceae (Onion Family): onion, garlic, leek, shallot, chive
Malvaceae (Mallow Family): okra
Poaceae (Grass Family): sweet corn, popcorn, ornamental corn
Solanaceae (Nightshade Family): tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato, husk tomato
2.) Alternate cover crops
3.) Alternate heavy feeders with light feeders
~ Heavy feeders: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collards, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, okra, onions, parsley, pumpkins, rhubarb, spinach, squash, tomatoes
~ Light feeders: beets, carrots, garlic, leeks, mustard, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, shallots, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, turnips
4.) Soil builders: alfalfa, broad beans, clover, lima beans, peanuts, peas, snap beans, soybeans, vetch
5.) Alternate flowering crops with vegetative crops
6.) Place crops with different canopy heights next to each other
7.) Alternate cool season crops with warm season crops
8.) Alternate deep-rooted crops with shallow-rooted crops
~Shallow-rooted crops are those whose main root system is in the top 1-2 feet of soil.
Examples: cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, celery, sweet corn, onion, white potato, and radish.
~ Moderately deep-rooted crops are those that have the main root system in the top 1-4 feet of soil. Examples are snap bean, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, peas, pepper, and summer squash. Deep-rooted crops are those whose main root system is in the top 1-6 feet of soil.
Examples: cantaloupe, pumpkin, tomato, and watermelon.
* And I would've added- rotate animals through your garden too!
It seems that all this upfront work will be worth the effort. After a few years of fine-tuning, the payoff for this level of garden planning could be pretty great — a long-term rotation plan that not only runs itself, but benefits every crop we grow.
So, the way we're looking at it, sustainable systems are Tim's and my retirement plan. One day we'll simply be sitting on the front porch sipping dandelion wine watching the whole thing run like clockwork!
And, well, if it doesn't ... we'll have plenty of dandelions.