MAKING A PLAN

MAKING A PLAN

Let’s face it, Winter sucks. However, I don’t go South like some people I know. Instead, I spend my time thinking about Spring; specifically, vegetable gardening. I really enjoy looking through seed catalogs, consulting my garden journal to see what worked last year and what didn’t, and planning this year’s garden.

To that end, I have developed a spreadsheet to help me keep track of my seeds and now to help plan my planting schedule. I start my serious planning by taking an inventory of the seeds that I have on hand. I check for quantity and for age. Seeds lose their viability with the passage of time.

Some seeds (think corn) are only good for one year. Others are viable for up to four years. Then they’ve gotta go.

True story: My Dad gave me his old hermetically sealed seed case when he got too old to garden back in the mid-nineteen nineties. There were seeds from the 1970’s in that case.

GETTING ORGANIZED
SEED INVENTORY AND PLANTING SCHEDULE SPREADSHEET

HOW I USE MY SPREADSHEET

  • List seed varieties by type of crops (leaf, fruit, root, legumes, herbs, flowers
  • When I know it, I try to include days to maturity
  • I list the year that is listed on the seed packet
  • I list the quantity of seeds remaining. Some quantities are approximations which is fine for this exercise.
  • I also list supplier
  • I color code indoor starting month, planting out month and harvest month (This helps make sure that I don’t overplant or underplant things like lettuce, cabbage, etc.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

The larger and more diverse the garden the more one will benefit from careful planning up front.

All the best,

Greg Garnache

gcgarnache@gmail.com

CROP ROTATION, THE FOUR CROP METHOD REVISITED

CROP ROTATION, THE FOUR CROP METHOD REVISITED

 

Blogger’s note:

In 2010, I took my first stab at blogging about gardening.  One of the first topics I covered was crop rotation, to me, one of the essential concepts to master in order to become a successful vegetable gardener.  My knowledge of crop rotation came from an article in a short-lived magazine called “Kitchen Garden” in 1997.  When I wrote my article about crop rotation in 2010 I was going totally from memory because, like a fool, I had misplaced/lost that issue.  That post has since  been viewed over 12,000 times.  However, I was unable to credit the original author because I had forgotten her name.  I have since acquired a copy of the original article.

This post has two goals.  First and foremost is to acknowledge the author who’s article changed me from a mediocre gardener to a consistently successful one.   Next, I will restate the principles of crop rotation that I practice with the goal of bringing greater clarity to this subject.

Crop Rotation – The Four Crop Rotation Revisited

Have you ever read something that  literally changed your life?  In early 1997, I had that very experience in the form of an article in “Kitchen Garden” magazine entitled “Yes, You Can Practice Crop Rotation”.  Written by  farmer and farmer’s market director, Cynthia Hizer, it described a simple four crop rotation that was easy to follow and which I have used  successfully for the last nineteen years.

In the ten years before reading this article I had made several attempts at vegetable gardening, relying on a little reading and a lot of trial and error.  Until then, I had never encountered any information regarding crop rotation that made much of an impression on me. When I read this article it was like getting hit on the head with a brick and all of a sudden being able to sing like Tony Bennett.  OK.  Maybe not that cool.  However, this knowledge allowed me to become a very good vegetable gardener, the kind of gardener that other gardeners turn to for advice.

Why is Crop Rotation so Important?

Planting the same crop in the same place year after year leads to some bad voodoo.  First of all, the soil will eventually lose the nutrients necessary for proper growth and health.   If you continue to plant crops in the very same place year after year, insects will figure this out and move in permanently.  Believe me, this is not good.  The same goes for diseases, especially fungal diseases.  I have read that fruiting vine crops like squash, cucumbers and melons need to be rotated on a four to five year basis in order to avoid various soil born diseases.  So, plant nutrition, disease resistance and insect infestation all seem to be good reasons to rotate your crops.

Four Crop Rotation – An Elegantly Simple Solution

The key to this four crop system is organizing crops based on their nutritional needs.  The four groups break down to leafy crops, fruiting crops, root crops and legumes.  Leafy crops like lettuce and cabbage need nitrogen.  Fruit crops, on the other hand like phosphorous.  Root crops require potassium.  The fourth group is legumes.  It’s not so much what they need.  It’s more about what they produce – nitrogen.   Hmm! And leafy crops like nitrogen?  It sounds like the beginning of a plan.

So where does the phosphorous and potassium come from? Soil amendments, most commonly rock phosphate and green sand.  At the heart of this crop rotation system is a program of adding soil amendments at just the right time and that time is at the end of the growing season and the place where these amendments  are added is the legume bed.

What makes this work so well is that the rock phosphate and the green sand need time to break down so that plants can make use of the available elements.  If you plant leafy crops in last season’s legume bed, they will benefit from the available nitrogen produced by the legumes.  In season 3, the phosphorous released by the rock phosphate will be available for the fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, melons, etc.By the time the root crops make it to this bed in  season 4, the green sand has released it’s potassium to the soil. Cynthia; you are a genius.

FOUR CROP ROTATION

SEASON 1         SEASON 2          SEASON 3       SEASON

LEGUMES              LEAF CROPS         FRUIT CROPS                 ROOT 

 

PEAS                         LETTUCE                TOMATOES                      ONIONS
BEANS                      SPINACH                PEPPERS                           BEETS
FAVA BEANS           KALE                      EGGPLANT                       CARROTS

CORN                       VINE CROPS

 

END OF SEASON
ADD                                                            Plant garlic
Green Sand
Rock Phosphate
Lime
Plant hairy vetch

I have to admit that “legumes” were not part of my gardening vocabulary when I first started gardening.  That changed after reading Cynthia’s article and our lives are richer for it.  We discovered “Haricot Vert”, the delicious french filet beans.  They are the best.  We also discovered fresh peas; one of the very best reasons to grow your own vegetables.  If you don’t garden, then you don’t know one of the great pleasures in life – fresh peas.  We also grow beans for drying; enjoying them in soups, stews and chili during the Winter months.

Putting These Principles into Practice

The obvious first step in implementing the “Four Crop Method” of crop rotation is to divide your garden into fourths.  I have sixteen planting beds in the main garden; four for each plant group.  I draw up a new garden plan each year, planning my rotation so that leaf crops will be planted in last season’s legume beds.  The fruit crops will go into the beds where last season’s leaf crops grew.  The root crops are planted in last year’s fruit crop beds.  Legumes are planted in last season’s root crop beds, starting the whole cycle over again.  Here’s how I organize each group:

ONE OF MY LEAF CROP BEDS IN MID-SUMMER

ONE OF MY LEAF CROP BEDS IN MID-SUMMER

LEAF CROPS

Lettuce
Spinach
Kale
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Baby Lettuce Greens
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Corn

A FRUIT CROP BED FEATURING TOMATOES, CUCUMBERS, EGGPLANT AND SWEET PEPPERS, PHOTO TAKEN IN JUNE

A FRUIT CROP BED FEATURING TOMATOES, CUCUMBERS, EGGPLANT AND SWEET PEPPERS, PHOTO TAKEN IN JUNE

FRUIT CROPS

Tomatoes
Sweet Peppers
Hot Peppers (Grown at least 25 feet away from sweet peppers)
Eggplant
Cucumbers
Melon
Squash
Zucchini

TWO ROOT CROP BEDS - ONIONS IN THE FOREGROUND WITH GARLIC IN THE BACK

A LEGUME BED IN THE FOREGROUND WITH THE ONION PATCH NEXT DOOR.  THE TALLER CROP IN THE BACKGROUND IS THE GARLIC PATCH

ROOT CROPS

Onions
Shallots
Green Onions
Leeks
Carrots
Beets
Swiss Chard (Related to Beets)
Turnips
Radishes
Bulb Fennel

LEGUMES

Peas
Green Beans
Fava Beans
Snow Peas
Beans for Drying
Hairy Vetch (a weed that is also a legume, planted after soil amendments have been applied. Plowed under in the Spring, adding more nitrogen and green matter to the soil)

HAIRY VETCH GROWING IN LATE FALL

HAIRY VETCH GROWING IN LATE FALL

Some Exceptions to the Rule.

You may have noticed that potatoes are not listed in the rotation.  Spuds present a dilemma; they are related to tomatoes (nightshade family), and they like a more acidic soil than most vegetables.  I get around this by planting them in a separate garden in a three crop rotation with legumes and Winter Rye.  We already know about the nitrogen producing properties of legumes.  The Winter Rye helps loosen the soil and repels nematodes who would prey on the potato tubers.  If you don’t have room for a separate garden, I would suggest that you grow potatoes in a container and change the soil every years.

Another exception, actually, more of a timing issue is garlic.  Garlic is a root crop which is planted in the fall; late October in my neighborhood (zone 6a).  What I do is clean up a fruit crop bed, apply some compost and plant my garlic there.  It is going to be a root crop bed next season anyway, so that’s where it’s going.

Oh Yes, Almost Forgot

At the end of the season, I add compost to next year’s fruit crop bed, root crop bed and legume bed.  Building soil with organic matter is what we do.  Over time, this creates a nice loose soil that retains enough moisture but also drains well.

Summary

Thoughtful crop rotation is a key component of a successful vegetable garden.

Divide your garden into fourths, group like vegetables together into the following:  legumes, leafy crops, fruiting crops and root crops.

At the end of each season add the following amendments to the soil in the beds where you grew legumes: rock phosphate, green sand, lime (if your soil is naturally acidic like mine), and compost.  It is also a good idea to plant hairy vetch in this bed as well after you have applied and tilled in the amendments.

I welcome your questions and comments.  If you are still a bit confused, by all means send me a comment.  The goal is to help you be a better gardener.  That’s my mission.

All the best,

Greg

 

 

 

It’s Seed Catalog Time

It’s Seed Catalog Time

I actually love this time of year.  While most people I meet are complaining about the cold weather, I am basking in the glories of the many seed catalogs that grace my mailbox  during the dark days of Winter.  Planning for Spring seems to make Winter more tolerable for me.

USING THE SEED INVENTORY TO ASSESS MY NEEDS FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON. THE NFL DRAFT "AIN'T GOT NOTHING ON ME".

USING THE SEED INVENTORY TO ASSESS MY NEEDS FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON.

My wife accuses me of treating the process of picking out seeds for the new year like it was the NFL draft.  OK.  Maybe I obsess a little.  I choose to view it as time well spent.

The catalog search was preceded by my annual seed inventory.  With nearly 100 packets of seeds to keep track of, I have resorted to creating a spread sheet which lists the variety, the year purchased, the current quantity or approximate quantity , the supplier and a column for listing seed starting dates.   Updating this report gives me the opportunity to revisit the success or failure of a particular variety, check the dates on the seed packets to make sure that I don’t have any seeds past their expected viability and determine which favorites need to be replenished.

Two factors are causing me to be a little more thoughtful about garden planning this year.  The first is a PBS program I watched recently called “In Defense of Food” hosted by Michael Pollen.  His basic message was that we should be eating a more plant based diet with less red meat.  The second influence on my current garden planning is an old copy of  “Nutrition Action Health Letter” that I rediscovered while reorganizing my home office.  In this particular issue was a chart rating vegetables on  their nutritional content.  I thought that this might be worthy of sharing.

HERE ARE THE TOP RATED VEGETABLES

HERE ARE THE TOP RATED VEGETABLES

My wife Catherine and I are working on a plan to utilize more of the top rated vegetables in our garden as well as creating meals that have more vegetables by volume and less meat.  The ideal is 80% vegetables – 20% protein source: more about that in future posts.

One hopeful sign that Spring is not that far away is that our chickens are starting to lay eggs again, now that the days are beginning to get longer.  We’ve also started some herb disks, which means I’ve set up the light stand in the home office.  We’re about ready to ‘rock’.  Yeah, let’s get some seeds ordered.  Here’s hoping that you are enjoying planning for the new growing season and that it will be your best garden ever.

All the best,
Greg Garnache