Garden Planning and Crop Rotation

taking notesout in the garden taking stock: new plans and tasks that need attention (the first in my case must be the shed)

January is such a good time to evaluate your garden. What could be better than stepping out with a clipboard, making sketches and notes and even – an aspect that always thrills me – creating a new plot. In my case, this always means reclaiming, for last year I spent more time writing about the different mini-gardens within our acre plot than actually working in them! Experienced gardeners will no doubt have everything under control (though you can’t plan the weather), but if you are new to the ‘keen and dedicated gardening community’ you may appreciate a few tips.

raised bed square foot plans
plan for the raised beds in my ‘square foot’ plot

This week, we’ll consider ‘edibles’ and annual crop rotation. Ignoring space for fruit, herbs and perennial vegetables such as globe artichokes, rhubarb or asparagus, look at your soil type, orientation of plot or beds and weather patterns – rainfall and frost pockets etc, then list what you want to grow. Don’t initially get carried away; it’s all too easy to overwhelm yourself. Salads are easy, and quick (an advantage if your children are helping) and can be grown almost anywhere. But rotation of other crop types is essential. Crops require nourishing; soil becomes infertile if the same vegetables are grown in the same place year after year, they absorb or use specific necessary nutrients from the soil and weaker crops, crop failure and disease are all the more likely.

square foot plot
the ‘square foot’ plot in the summer of 2010 (or was it 2009?)

So, having decided what you want to grow, split them into types: Roots, Brassicas and ‘Others’: divide your plot – or beds – to allow annual space for each type (adding a fourth if you want to grow many potatoes). Take a look at this excellent Vegetable Planner and Calendar (opens as a pdf) prepared by Dobies, which you can download for free. It provides a wealth of advice in a simple, easy-to-understand format. And the better to visualize the concept of rotation, this chart should also help.

3 year rotational cropping plan
a three-year rotational cropping plan (add a fourth plot if you wish to grow a large quantity of potatoes)

Now you should be ready to order your seeds and prepare the ground as soon as the weather is fit. And as this is a Dobies blog, you will not think it strange that I sow Dobies seeds! I’ve been using them for years and have always found the advice given in their catalogue to be accurate and helpful. And their plug plants are a godsend for busy gardeners; the various collections available last year enabled me to grow superb crops when I did not have the time to sow.

allotment style plot
our acre of Cotswold garden also has space for an allotment-style plot (entirely cared for by my husband)

See you again next week – and meanwhile, a huge thankyou to all who have viewed our first post, and even more so to those who left us a comment, and / or have indicated they will be following the blog.

(This post written by contributor, Ann Somerset Miles.)

  • Kadeeae

    I have printed off the pdf, thanks Ann 🙂

    Have bookmarked Dobies for this weekend!

  • Glad it’s worked – had a glitch on my computer and between Devon and here (Cotswolds) we were just sorting it out.

  • james

    Hi again Ann..
    great blog! your veg plot looks full of the promise of sack loads of spuds!! hope they produced as well as they looked!

    i’ve gone with a 4 bed rotation, having a little more space, to allow for a seperate bed for potatoes.. 1)potatoes 2)pea and bean 3)brassicas 4)others, then 2341, 3412 and so on..

    i have a separate bed for salad and am making a trough for carrots.. being in cumbria the majority of the “other” section has to be grown in a greenhouse so ive moved my beetroot into that category and was wondering if you know of any potential problems with the pots following so closely on the heels of the beetroots?

  • Well, James – the folks at Dobies will I am sure help you with that one, but guess if you refresh the compost in which you grow the second crop, it should not be a problem. Sounds as if you have climate-wise, the same difficulties we experience here in the Cotswolds, 450ft up and suffering from cold easterlies much of the time, and a heavy clay soil. That’s where my raised ‘mini-beds’ score; particularly when covered with cloches. I’ll be blogging about crop protection in due course. So glad you like the blog – and yes, we (or rather my husband) produce far more potatoes than the two of us can possibly eat.

  • Terrific blog! Love the pictures and information! makes me want spring to hurry!

    happy day!

  • James, I’ve spoken to our gardening advisor and she cannot foresee any issues. Although both potatoes and beetroot are roots, there’s no reason why they can’t be grown in rotation.

  • I’m a new Allotment-teer and grew great plants last year with Dobbies seeds! 🙂 I, too, have downloaded the pdf crop rotation guide with thanks. What about zuchinni/courgettes? how do they rotate? – thanks, Franci

  • Franci, zucchini.courgettes are treated as for marrows, so in the plan posted on the blog, they come into ‘C – others’, though as they take up so much space I tend to grown them in odd spots on their own. (By the way, we’, be providing quite a lot of information for allotment gardeners, and hope you will find it useful).

  • james

    wow! thank you very much Ann and Brian for the incredibly quick reply, its definately set my mind at rest… i grow beetroot to make wine, (i have 2 gallons ageing from last year which has all the promise of being delicious) and potatoes are such a large part of our requirements that i would have to have a bit of a rethink if there were potential disease or pest issues..
    One more question if i may, with a seperate bed for potatoes i’ve been given very conflicting advice on manuring, on the one hand, do not manure as the potatoes will shoot off in all directions, on the other, manure heavily to produce the best crop..
    so if i could ask, what is the general rule of thumb for a dedicated potato bed?

  • James, what do you mean by ‘manure’? We too (my husband and I) grow loads of potatoes, but our method for success may be considered a little unconventional. I’ll check my various manuals in the morning and let you know what the ‘experts’ say, as well as telling you what we do, here in the high Cotswolds. Actually, I’m posting about potatoes next week, so maybe I’ll leave it until then, if that’s OK with you.

  • james

    for the price of a couple of bottles of homemade wine and a jar or 2 of jam i luckily have access to a very large pile of 4/5 year old farmyard manure which i have been digging in. i missed my oppurtunity in the autumn, being busy putting in fruit trees and some infrastucture so was planning on manuring when i dig in my italian ryegrass.
    I’d be very interested to hear your methods and next week is absolutely fine, thanks again.

  • Thanks, Ann, for the feedback on courgettes! You’ll be amused to know that we had somewhere between 12 and 15 different courgette plants and had no idea how much they would produce! Had to give away tons. And have plans to not plant so many this year. 🙂

  • james

    Haha Franci!! whilst i didnt grow courgettes last year everyone else on our allotment site did and suffered a glut.. as a result i still have 3 or 4 bags of shredded frozen courgette in the freezer and recipes for everything from courgette soup to courgette and carrot muffins!!! i’m going to grow some squashes this year but think i will hold back on the courgettes myself after learning from everyone elses mistakes.. i think i may try to grow some good big pumpkins for halloween instead!!

  • Oh I love this dialogue between readers – something I had hoped would happen when ‘the team’ discussed the possibility of a Dobies blog. And instantly gardeners’ comments have me making notes on future posts: pumpkin growing for later in the year (I grew a superb mini one for roasting in 2010).

    How do you, Franci and James – and other readers – feel about using the ‘comments’ facility as a forum (hate the word) through which we can all communicate experiences and ideas?

  • james

    I think it would be an awful shame if this didnt become something along the lines of an ongoing discussion, gardening, whilst satisfying and engrossing in its right is a core skill that is surrounded by so much more, whether a way to express yourself artistically in an ornamental garden or, in my case, as a means to ensure fresh produce to enrich your diet… or indeed both… which then leads into so many different areas and skills that nobody could ever learn “everything”, this means everyone has something to offer and while im not expecting world peace or an end to poverty some good advice, a nice new recipe for strawberry jam and a tip on the best cut flowers to grow for a bouquet for my wife would do nicely!

  • … all of which, James – and thank you – we have in mind; planned and in the offing. So please keep visiting, and please encourage your like-minded acquaintances to do so also, as active followers. Maybe a leap of faith … maybe a rediscovery of what was once a necessity for survival … no matter; how wonderful is cyberspace that allows communication, education, and a shared enjoyment of our personal ‘demesne’.

  • Nan

    I wonder, Ann, if you might talk about the row in your garden that has poles and strings. What grows there? What kind of poles do you use, and do you reuse them each year? Is it string which connects them or something stronger? We grew pole beans for the first time last year and this year need to put up some kind of supports.

  • Nan, the poles are actually 6ft bamboo canes: you push pairs of the into the earth – about 18ins apart from each other and about 9ins apart in the row. So you finish with two rows of poles. Then you cross each pair and as you do so, lower a horizontal cane in the wedge formed by the cross. Overlap the horizontals for strength. They are lashed together with garden twine (my guiding days come in there, learning to tie half-hitches); we brace the ends of the rows with a cane at each end at 45 degrees. This makes or a very sturdy construction, though once heavy with bean plants, they can blow over in the September gales.

    We grow runner beans up them (I think this is what you in the USA call pole beans). Many people plant sow the seed direct into the soil – but we suffer from cold clay soil and the beans tend to rot; so I sow them in ‘polycups’ and transplant them once all fear of a late frost has past. I’ll be posting about polycups later on. Does that help? Oh, we use the canes for about three years, taking them up each autumn (fall), cleaning them and storing them under cover.

  • Nan

    Thanks so much, Ann! We have a lot of wind on this hill, so I may have to think about something else, but I’ve saved your comment so Tom and I can talk it over. Thanks again for all the details. And I’ve always wondered what runner beans were when I’d read the term in an English book! :<)

  • Nan, best thing to do in a windy situation is to ‘plant’ the canes in wigwams – five, six or seven, well spaced out, and one bean plant per cane; that way they do not form a fence against the wind. Hope that makes sense!

  • First look at this blog. I used to have an allotment where I lived until 18 months ago. We, my wife Shirley and I moved here into Exeter. (Not far form Dobies!) The house had been a rental and I have managed to do a fruit area, put up my greenhouse, place 5 raised beds (5 Plot rotation). All from an overgrown grass plotI changed the bathroom to have a walk-in shower and recycled the old bath to a garden pond for ornamental plants. Shirley does the flower side and I do the fruit and veg. Bit of rot on the leeks last year but the garlic was the best ever. Poor sprouts, fiar spuds. Prefer frehcn climbing beans (we call them squeeky beans) to runners. Peas did well. Over winter onions and garlic doing very well because of the mild winter. Save as much roof water as possible, compost all, thinking of a wormery. Peter

  • Good to hear from you, Peter. I’ve tried to look at your blog as suggested but it won’t open. From what you write here, it sounds very productive and I wish you luck with it in 2012. Thanks for commenting.