Wrapping my head around the cool season

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.

Empty bed

Now the sweetcorn is gone this bed won’t be needed until late October when the new season peppers get planted. The question is: how to make the best use of the bed in the meantime? hmmm….

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.

Tomatoes

A basket of fresh produces is not to be taken for granted.

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.

Peppers

Who knows how long the peppers will last in this frost free environment.

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.

Carrot seedlings

I wonder if these carrots will make it to maturity or will they get in the way of the garlic?

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!

Potatoes

I guess I’ll need to get in there and harvest all the spuds instead of as we need them…. but it is too hot to dig right now.

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.

cool season seeds

I think I have the seeds I need for the next season

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.

Aparagus

At least I don’t have to worry about the asparagus – it’s not going anywhere. Not for the next 25 years or so!

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.

Kidney beans

The kidney beans beginning to bulge and so it won’t be long before they are dried and done.

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!

garden planning

Figuring out where very thing goes is like one of those complicated puzzles you find in the back of newspapers and magazines

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)

12 Comments on “Wrapping my head around the cool season

  1. I’ve heard that oats are a natural alleopathic…killing other seeds, so you should only use it as a cover crop where you intend to set in plants, not sow seeds. Never tested it myself, but thought it was worth a mention. Best of luck in all your complicated planning!

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    • Thanks for the tip, I had a quick look into that and ended up going down a fascinating rabbit hole of interesting information! I knew wheat was alleopathic and it is great to know the weeds are kept at bay in this way over winter. But it was interesting to find that some plants are better at it than others and while some are detrimental to crops, others can be beneficial. The other thing I found out was the effects in the soil doesn’t seem to be long lasting, but scientists are working on trying to use this natural ability to make an effect herbicide. Most of my crops are started from seed indoors so they are planted out as seedlings and I personally haven’t experienced any problems. Isn’t nature wonderful. The more I learn about my garden the more I am in awe of it! : o)

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  2. My carrots can go year round. Radishes and beets and brassicae , too. I end up with quite the mixed beds by the time spring comes and they all bolt or are removed to remove the cabbage fly buffet of leaves. Enjoy your new puzzle!

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  3. Ah, the dilemma of long growing seasons. It is so difficult to take out the last of the tomatoes and squash. I am one to just let them go until the end, and then start the cool season vegetables a bit later. I do the opposite at the end of winter (now) by taking out the cool season vegetables early so that the tomatoes can get started. Cool season vegetables are easier to take out, because they are more ‘vegetative’ the ‘fruiting’ (like tomatoes). I mean the cabbage, beets and such are just that much better if taken while too young and tender.

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        • Thanks to one of my kids admitting they love beans, I may have to up my game and grow more of them, I’ve been depriving him all this time because I don’t like them all that much! : o)

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          • My mother did worse. To this day, she will cook beef stew with extra carrots in it because she insists that it is my favorite vegetable. However, carrots are one of the few things that I really can not stand. I would rather eat caviar! I really think that my disdain for carrots is a direct result of her insisting that they are my favorite.

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