One of my favourite winter jobs is planning my crop rotation (garden nerd alert!) Working out how much of each crop we need, and when and where it all gets planted to ensure a daily harvest year round while looking after my soil. Excitement for crop planning took a while to dawn. For many years it freaked me out! My Winnie Poo brain used to glaze over at the very thought of it. I’d spend days in a muddle, and even after all that effort it never really worked out. There’s a tonne of info required to make a workable plan for the whole year. You need to know how long from seed to transplant, from transplant to harvest, from harvest to finish. As well as how productive each crop is plus all its little quirks.
My message today is don’t worry about the whole year. Just go from crop to crop and gather the knowledge slowly. One happy day, you’ll find it held within.
Today I’m sharing a back to basics, solid beginning to your crop rotation journey. I’m leaving out all the bells and whistles ok. Lets get you off on the right foot in a no stress kind of way 🙂
Crop Rotation = Strong Soil
- A bit of organisation with the order of your plantings prevents stressing your hard working soil out. We can keep the workload light if we balance the demands. Follow a heavy feeder with a light feeder and huzzah!, balanced soil without bags of fert or liquid brews or shopping, just a bit of brain power.
- Rotating crops spreads the nutrient load. Each crop draws on different minerals and some gather nutrient even eg: buckwheat draws phosphorus and legumes bring nitrogen.
- The final win with moving crops around is breaking cycles of soil borne disease.
The Importance Of A Record
Get a notebook. How old fashioned am I? Or do your mobile phone thing. Whatever floats your boat. The thing is the record. Something you can flick back through to see what you grew 3 years ago (unless you have super sonic powers of recall).
The longer the gap before a crop is grown back on the same soil the better. My goal is at least 3 years for crops with potential for soil borne disease: brassica (broccoli, cabbage, mustard, kohlrabi, cauliflower, brussels sprouts), allium (onion, garlic, leek) and solanaceae (tomato, pepper, chilli, eggplant). The rest I’m more relaxed with, although still aim for as good a size break as poss.
Follow This Pattern
I tried a million a different ways until I learnt this rotation, many years ago, from Kay Baxter. I’ve stuck with it. I love it for the balance it brings and it’s simplicity.
1. Start with a lupin greencrop
At this time of year I am filling the garden with lupin greencrops. Summer heavy feeders will be going in in about October/ November which is perfect as the lupins will be pre flower adding a richness of nitrogen to the soil. If your garden bed is new, you’d do well to bring it together with a pea and oat greencrop before you crop it.
2. Next comes a heavy feeder
We’ve pumped the soil with nitrogen, so lets use it! Heavy feeders need nitrogen, light feeders do not. Plus your soil has had a lovely rest and repair phase from the preceding greencrop. It’s primed and ready to go.
- Alliums: onions, leeks, garlic
- Brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussell sprouts
- Cucurbits: melons, cucumber, zuchinni, pumpkin
- Leafy greens: silverbeet, chard, salads
- Solonaceae: tomato, aubergine, pepper
3. Finally, a light feeder
No richness needed here. A dust of lime flour or woodash pre legume is useful.
- Legumes: peas, beans, broadbeans
- Root crops: potatoes, kumara, carrots, parsnips, beetroot
Legumes are nitrogen fixers so if you grow these in step 3: the light feeder, you’ve got the option of missing step 1: the greencrop. You could jump right into step2: the heavy feeder. Sure you’ll get the nitrogen bit but because you’ve knicked off with and eaten all the produce, the soil misses the rest and rebuild it would’ve gotten with the greencrop phase (where the whole plant gets recycled back). To take this short cut you want to be sure your soil is in good heart. Check it first ok. If it’s smelling good, looking good and producing a bounty then try it out. If it’s none of those things you’d do well to stick to the programme and sow your greencrop. Phacelia, buckwheat, wheat – so many options. All are good.
Then back we go to the beginning, sow a greencrop.
My crop rotation notebook looks like this
Plan One Crop Ahead
Until you get familiar with how long each crop is from beginning to end, all you need do is plan the next crop. Start thinking about what you’ll grow next when you start harvesting. At any one time, try to have a mix of heavy, light and green crops on the go – it’ll make things easier further down the track. And WRITE IT ALL IN YOUR NOTEBOOK. Sorry to shout, but its important.
As you work through it, you’ll have a tonne of questions, which is awesome cause they bring the learning. At times you’ll feel confused. That’s cool, normal even, just don’t get stuck there! Take a breath and do the next thing. It’s only gardening. The sky’s not going to fall on your head if you grow a cabbage after a silverbeet.
Start simple, but mostly just start. Do it!