Saturday, July 2, 2011

My garden rotation plan

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 C:

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
5. beans
6. peas

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
E: nothing
F: nothing

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!


Paul Stilwell said...

It's always heartening to see someone do gardening with some ambition.

I find “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth is a good book.

I just wanted to point out some things:

Peppers and tomatoes are largely self-pollinating. While some space should be given (even a single row of another plant to block can be sufficient) between a variety of pepper from one another variety of pepper, or a variety of tomato from one another variety of tomato, I really could not see tomatoes cross-pollinating with peppers. Even if peppers and tomatoes were out-breeding, I would find it hard to believe them cross-pollinating, though both are nightshade.

Cucumbers and squash will *not* cross-pollinate. Cucumbers and melons will not cross-pollinate. Squash and melons will not cross-pollinate. Different varieties within the squash family will cross-pollinate with each other (zuchinni and acorn squash for instance). Same within the melon family and within the cucumber family.

Lettuce is totally self-pollinating. There's not even the chance of bugs doing a little cross-breeding as can happen between varieties of pepper or tomato. While it is officially recommended that varieties of lettuce be separated at least a little, the fact is your pretty darn safe even if they're right against each other.

All the best with this.

Sheila said...

THANK YOU. That is such a relief, because there really isn't a whole lot of space between the various beds. This gives me a lot more freedom to move things around and grow more varieties.


Red Rose said...

Wow! Nice tips... I had a similar problem this year and didn't know what was the cause!

Melanie Giant said...

I am new in gardening and I am encourage to continue it because of your blog. Even if my tomatoes have black spots on the surface and my potatoes are so small for its normal size I would still try it again until I get it perfectly. Next batch of gardening I will also plan it carefully like yours.

Melanie Giant said...

I am new in gardening and I am encourage to continue it because of your blog. Even if my tomatoes have black spots on the surface and my potatoes are so small for its normal size I would still try it again until I get it perfectly. Next batch of gardening I will also plan it carefully like yours.

Spinet Schoenhut said...

Wow! It’s very timely I have discovered your blog because I’m about to start with my gardening and your tips will surely be of help to me. I’m just curious, what are the bad effects if two vegetables of the same family cross-pollinate?

Sheila said...

In the short term, none. But if you want to save seed for next year, you might end up with half-cabbage half-broccoli hybrids, which probably isn't what you want.

If you're just starting out, it's probably a good idea not to worry about saving seed the first year. (Says the over-ambitious beginning gardener who wants to try everything.)

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