A Sample Veggie Garden Rotation
It’s time to take a closer look at what is growing, now that the heavy work is out of the way. I’ll walk you through what I am growing in each bed – in the order through which they will rotate. But first, I’ll discuss the reasons I am rotating this way and which beds will not be rotated. Then I’ll probably tell you how the “best laid plans of mice and men….” – meaning how the plan is likely to go side-ways.
These rotations are based on having raised beds, dietary needs and preferences, health of the garden, a no-till plan, and organic, biointensive gardening. What that means is:
The raised beds allow me to weed easily, but it all ensured that I would first break up the soil to at least two feet deep, thus allowing for well-supported root growth to an average depth of many vegetable plants. The raised beds allow me to have great control over what is grown in each bed, and an easy way to keep track of it.
I have no specific dietary needs, but we love vegetables here. We do have preferences, but we have also looked closely and what we actually want to have on-hand. Somethings have been planted just to try them out, of course, but we’ll discuss that another time. One of the major considerations is storage: will it keep in the cool garage? Can it be frozen? How long will it keep dried? How much can we realistically consume fresh? But second to that is: How hard is it to harvest? Consider this: I fed a friend beer last summer while he helped me sit there and shell black beans for a few hours. It was a lot of work…….and beans are easy! I have planted grains like wheat, rye, and barley (unsuccessfully thus far), but I am unsure how I will prepare it without buying specialized tools. So, this year there will be more amaranth – it’s healthy, beautiful, tasty and the best part…..you just shake the flower head into a bag to get the “ready to eat” seed!
Veggie gardens are best rotated. In some cases plants draw so much of one nutrient out of the soil that it will struggle to grow in the same spot the following year. Trying to rotate a heavy feeder one year with a light feeder the next, allows time for soil to regenerate – so too does winter cover cropping, but we’ll tackle-that another time. Also, there are many pest that are attracted to specific plants but have long life times. Some beetles for example will eat your plant tissue, but lay eggs in the soil for their larva to feed on the roots the following year. By planting a less favorable plant the next year in the same spot, you are likely to keep those pests in check.
The statement “no-till” is misleading; I did till to begin with. And some root veg that require digging-up is a good opportunity to till. But I am avoiding it after the initial till as often as I can. My plan is to allow for solid root growth and leave it all in the soil. It is an excellent habitat for all sorts of soil-benefiting creatures and it could represent all the organic material needed to support future healthy crops. With two or three beds that will get tilled – and are rotating, it means that some beds could go as much as 7 years without tilling.
Organic gardening is to broad to define here, and if you know me, you know my take on it.
BioIntensive is a term I learnt to imply (I think) two things. One, instead of planting in rows, you plant in a pattern that reflects the true space a plant’s root system needs. Two, the same goes for underground. It means planting together with plants that co-exist and help each other. Deep rooted, will shallow rooted or a nitrogen fixer with a nitrogen hungry plant. (However, as an aside – I am beginning to have doubts about the term “nitrogen fixer.” In the case of legumes, nodes on the roots take nitrogen from the air, combine it with a bacteria and make it available for plants…..but….as far as my research can tell, they are actually making it available for themselves. As soon as a bean sets its’ fruit it requires a ton of nitrogen to develop it. So, I suspect nitrogen fixers only actually provide nitrogen to the soil if they are tilled into the ground with their fruit or prior to fruit-set.)
There are some beds that will not be rotated. One of the first things I did was compile a list of fruits and veggies I wanted that would need to stay-put: the perennials. So, the four first beds were dedicated to Blueberries, Raspberries Strawberries and (I’m still undecided on this one) Kale, borage, asparagus, and biennials I wish to seed. A few supplementary growing areas contain Apples, Pears, Figs, a nectarine, grape and peach, olives, rhubarb, Meyer lemon, artichoke and culinary herbs. Oh, and hops! Two more beds, right in the middle of the garden, adjacent to the pond are flower gardens. I intended them to be pollinator gardens (close to water for the bugs), but we have decided some of it will be for cut flowers as well.
So that leaves the remaining 14 beds, 5ft by 15ft for the rotation of veggie gardens. Here is what I have planted for Spring of 2019.
Bed #1: Currently Spinach, beets and Swiss chard. You will note the chard has bolted. I actually picked this bed to grow the spinach family because the chard survived the winter. However, it appears I should have grown new ones, as they likely would not have bolted. This garden will grow amaranth. The plan was to finish the spinach and grow amaranth in its place, but I will likely replace the chard with the amaranth.
Bed #2: The tail end of a Rye trial. I’ll try it again next fall. In the meantime I may let some of it seed so I don’t have to buy any. This was a summer garden, supposed to follow the grain with squash. So I have some pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash and zucchini. I think I lost my cucumber plants somewhere, so I will probably buy a couple.
Bed #3: Indeterminate tomato’s (climbing), peppers, and potatoes. I will also try to pack basil in there. There are some marigolds amongst the potato’s to keep out nematodes.
Bed #4: Yellow Dent corn, also with marigolds on the south side to help shade the soil.
Bed #5: Bush tomatoes, but I also have a couple peppers, one climbing tomato, and I will hopefully get some tomatillos to put in. There is some alyssum in there as a ground cover and beneficial bug attractor.
Bed #6: Brassicas: Cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Also with marigolds on the south side.
Bed #7: Mustard. Yep, that’s it. White mustard. Depending on when it finishes I’ll likely do buckwheat if early, and a true grain if late.
Bed #8: Garlic, Onions, Leeks, coupled with carrots, parsley, parsnips and cilantro. (Deep rooted carrot family with shallow bulb family.)
Bed #9: Corn – an ornamental kind, but edible like dent corn.
Bed #10: More brassicas: Kale, cabbages, Brussels and marigolds.
Bed #11: Peas, bread poppy, and arugula. Will be kidney beans
Bed #12: alyssum border for lettuces and sunflower. If lettuce bolts, I’ll do a buckwheat before more lettuces in the fall.
Bed #13: Celery, carrot, onion, parsley, leeks, radish, parsnips and more onions.
Bed #14: Buckwheat: Will be black beans.
Best laid plans: If you notice, my tomatoes are only two years apart in the rotation. I’ll likely change that. Also, the summer/spring or short/long growing times allow for a lot of variation. Throw in a winter crop, and one that gets cut down for early spring crops, or one that goes late into June, and we really have to move things around to see what works. And buckwheat is one of those that I have no idea how to prepare it for consumption. But, it helps out the bugs, keeps weeds out between crops and produces a tone of compostable matter. But will it fit into the plan in the long run…who knows.
I hope this interests you or helps you think about your plant pairings, rotations or just simply what you might like to grow. I’ll keep you posted on how this works out. As of right now, I am watering the beds regularly because we are once again in a dry spell. It was 27C today and has been mid 20’s for a few weeks. Crazy how the weather is getting: Super cold feb, dry hot march, cold and wet April, and dry hot may. The other reasons to grow and rotate is to see what we can actually grow in this changing climate. Maybe a few years from now I’ll just be growing olives!