Ok so I’ve done some thinking…. About how I will tackle the next season. But I’d like to say that this is as convoluted as getting my head around crop rotation in the first place! Once I realised this, I decided I’d do it once and do it right, and then each autumn I can come back here as all the thinking necessary will have been done.
What makes it complicated is several factors. Firstly, which summer crops are lingering about and how long will they remain there, eking out their last ounce of productivity. I could be ruthless and say, “I need the space, out you come!” but that would be at the expense of one last zucchini or tomato. After a season without a garden I am certainly not going to waste a single opportunity for some fresh homegrown goodness, and as we don’t get frost here… who knows when that will be.
The next question is, when do the new proper season crops go in? (you know… the spring ones, because growing during the winter is just killing time really – but you didn’t hear that from me!) The last crops to go in in the spring will be the ones that really need it to be warm outside, the beans, peppers and melons are generally on the slow side.
But some go in rather early. For example, I’m putting my new garlic in in April because I want to avoid the risk of rust. My early garlic last year did really well without any orange dots dusting their tips. The mid-winter ones were hit in the last month of growth and came to nothing. They didn’t even get to bulb up! If I hadn’t have grown the early ones, I would have given up on growing garlic altogether.
This causes a bit of a problem I hadn’t foreseen when I did my crop rotation. I wish I had. Because the garlic follows the carrots and the carrots can go all year round, so now I have to decide do I plant my next successional row in the current carrot bed, and find I hold up the garlic, or do I start them off now in the potato bed – that still has potatoes in it, but only because I haven’t decided how I am going to store them this winter, and so have been digging up meal sized amounts at a time. It feels too early to be rotating crops. But any carrot seeds sown today will be ready in early June. Ok so the spuds need to come out and become the new Carrot and Root Crop bed. Although I’m not sure about the ones I sowed a few weeks back… They may not be ready in time…. and this is a classic example of how every little thing you do in the garden needs to be examined as to how it fits in the big picture. And this is just the garlic, carrot, potato conundrum. Don’t get me started on the pea, brassica, squash problem!
Then I need to decide what I actually want to grow over the winter. So, I poured over every available source of winter crops and decided everything I can and actually want to grow is already on my list and in my seed tin. Some of these are a one hit wonder – grow it once and its gone and others can be successionally planted between now and when the temperatures drop and growth all but ceases. So, I need to figure out how much of each I want to grow for now and for later. Bearing in mind the later could impact the planting of the spring crops. The thought of waiting all winter for something only to have to rip it out because sweetcorn is more exciting.
Once I know how much space I need for what I want, then I need to think about where to put it, taking into consideration the window of opportunity in some of the beds. I also need to decide to keep it in its normal crop rotation slot and put it in the old bed or in the new bed… hence the carrot conundrum. Or do I put it somewhere else where it won’t impact other crop rotation issues, like planting too many brassicas seasonally close together to build up disease in the soil.
Once I figure out where the winter crops will go – fitting them in around the old and the new summer crops, I need to decide what to do with the empty beds. Cover crops are a great idea to get a green manure thing going on so I can enrich the beds naturally and replace the goodies in the soil that was taken by the previous crops. But even this creates time issues. You need to allow 6 – 8 weeks prior to needing the bed for the new crops to ensure all the organic material dug into the soil is well rotted and incorporated into earth.
The other issue to give some thought to with cover crops is – which one? Legume crops like lupin and Lucerne has nitrogen fixing abilities through its root nodules so would be great after a hungry crop like sweetcorn. Other cover crops like oats are more carbon rich and will help to add structure to soil once dug in. Mustard is another great cover crop and is said to be able to heal and restore the soil, especially after a crop that was plagued with disease, like the rust in the late garlic. But you need to look twice before you cross the street with this one – was there a brassica in the bed, or in the one before it or after it as you really don’t want to increase the risk of club root. If you get that you’ll never be able to grow brassicas again!
I also like to grow wheat in some of my spare winter beds to use the straw as a mulch, but it generally isn’t ready for harvest until late September, so it is finding the right spot for it. And for some beds nothing seems to work and there is no time to plant anything, so these ones will probably just end up with a thick layer of manure for the worms to work in, with possibly a bit of help from a fork if they don’t work hard enough in the time allowed.
So now I know what needs thinking about and why, I think I need to get out a piece of paper and a pencil and try and make it all fit together in a logical plan. I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Come again soon – I may need a wee lie down after I figure this out.
Sarah the Gardener : o)