I've never been one to plan for tomorrow. But I do like to plan for next year. It's less practical, I guess. In any event, the other day I sat down and worked out a three-year garden rotation plan.
There are a lot of facts to work with:
1. You can't grow plants from the same family right after each other, because diseases and pests specific to that family will multiply in the soil. Instead, plant something from a family only every three years.
2. If you want to save seed (which I do), you can't grow plants from the same family next to each other, or they will cross-pollinate. The distance apart you have to plant them depends on the variety. Tomatoes need a couple of yards, while corn needs quite a distance. Luckily I have no wish to grow corn.
3. It's important to plant each bed with something that fixes nitrogen (beans, peas, clover, etc.) periodically, to help build the soil. Ideally you put something that uses a lot of nitrogen immediately after the legumes, followed by something that doesn't need as much.
4. You shouldn't plant root vegetables in virgin soil, but wait till you've achieved better "tilth," or soil texture. Otherwise they'll end up lumpy from all the rocks.
I have six garden beds -- that is to say, I will. Two and a half are dug already; the rest will be dug next spring. I practice what is called "landscape gardening," that is, you fit your vegetable beds into convenient spots in your landscaping. I do it because the only good place for gardening is my front yard, and I wanted to leave a little front lawn. So putting plants in separate beds will probably keep them apart enough.
I gave each bed a letter to make my plan simpler to draw up.
Here's bed A, already planted in tomatoes:
Bed B, which is supposed to get a fall crop of lettuce this year if I get around to preparing it (and getting rid of that rhododendron):
Bed D, adjoining Bed C, and planted with 8 pole beans. I count them as separate beds so that all my beds are roughly the same size.
Against the fence, Bed E, which is going to need to be raised so that it doesn't flood:
Bed F, against the fence on the other side of the path:
And there are six families I want to plant:
Nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers)
Legume family (beans, peas)
Daisy family (lettuce)
Mustard family (cabbage, broccoli)
Goosefoot family (spinach, beets)
Cucurbit family (cucumbers, pumpkins)
But I can't just assign each family to a bed, or my tomatoes will cross-pollinate with the peppers, the cabbage with the broccoli, the cucumbers with the squash, and my two kinds of lettuce with one another. (Luckily beans and peas self-pollinate; I don't have to worry about them.) So I redid the groups based on what I would like in each bed.
Basically, I put the families in pairs: half the nightshades and half the cucurbits in one bed, half in the other. If I keep each family with its buddy (paired up based on planting time and basic needs), I can still make a three-year rotation. I also lumped the goosefoots with the lettuce because I don't plan to grow a lot, and split up the peas and beans because they need to get to each bed every three years. I gave each group a number:
1. tomatoes and cucumbers
2. peppers and squash
3. iceberg lettuce, cabbage, beets
4. butterhead lettuce, broccoli, spinach
And here is the three-year rotation:
Year 1 (this year)
A: 1 - just tomatoes
B: 4 - a fall crop of just lettuce and spinach
C: 6 - fall crop of peas
D: 5 - beans
Year 2 (2012)
A: 5 -beans
B: 6 - peas
C: 1 - tomatoes and cucumbers
D: 3 - iceberg lettuce and cabbage
E: 2 - green peppers and pumpkins
F: 4 - butterleaf lettuce, broccoli, spinach
Year 3 (2013)
A: 4 - butterleaf lettuce, broccoli, spinach
B: 2 - green peppers and pumpkins
C: 3 - iceberg, cabbage, beets, plus maybe some carrots?*
D: 1 - tomatoes and cucumbers
E: 5 - beans
F: 6 - peas
*Carrots are in their own family, but I don't intend to save seed from them because they're a biennial (take two years to produce seed) AND they cross-pollinate with Queen Anne's lace, which is all over my yard. Beets are another biennial, so no seed from them either.
It's not quite an ideal rotation. It would be better to have the lettuce (a heavy feeder) always follow legumes. Also, lettuce would go better in the slightly shadier beds (A and B) and tomatoes in the sunniest beds (C and D). But I don't know if there's such a thing as an "ideal rotation" in this size of garden, especially considering that I'm a little hindered by what I've already planted this year and where I planted it.
But, do any of the veteran gardeners who read this blog (thank goodness there are some!) see any glaring issues with my plan? If so, please speak now before I plant anything else!