I spent the weekend with a nagging feeling in the back of my mind…. ‘I need to sort out this crop rotation cover crop thing. Once it is done, I’ll never have to think of it again.’ But there were other exciting things to occupy my time, so I pushed the reoccurring thought away. But with the start of a new week and a decidedly autumnal feel to the air I was reluctant to go out into the garden until things warmed up. It wasn’t cold on a normal cold scale, but when things plunge dramatically from the high 20Cs to the low 20Cs and late teens – you feel it. This is temperatures I would delight in, in the spring, but in summer it is all a bit of a shock.
So, I decided to sit down and figure all of this out in the ‘warmth’ of indoors until the sun warmed the garden. But I never made it outside as a wrestled with who needs what. But once it fell into place it all made sense and I wondered why it took so long and freaked me out so much. But I had to go through the process to make sure I got it right.
As this is more for me than anything else, so I have resource to refer back to, I wrote out lengthy explanations as to why I made the decisions I made so I wouldn’t confuse my future self. Which caused it to be quite long winded, so I have broken it up into 3 instalments for you, to make it light and interesting. The half of the garden that was to be explored is actually nicely divided into 3 crop rotation cycles, so it was easy to split my explanations along those lines too.
So today we are looking at what is going on in crop rotation cycle one and what will happen over the next couple of seasons. There are 5 beds that rotate in this cycle and so the brassica won’t be in the same place for 5 years. I’ve also avoided using mustard as a cover crop in this rotation to reduce the risk of club root disease and I only have one Solanaceae group here as well. All in all, the needs of each bed are varied. I hope it makes sense.
CROP ROTATION CYCLE ONE
Bed 4: was squash – will be brassicas
This bed is currently home to butternut and buttercup squash and a baby bear pumpkin that seems to be loving it and there is less baby about it and more oversized adolescent! So much for the individual stuffed pumpkins I envisaged serving midwinter! These have maybe 3 – 4 weeks left as the leaves are still green and vibrant.
- Winter: So once harvested, I’ll re-enrich soil and sow lupin cover crop to revitalise the soil and prepare it for the brassicas in the spring.
- Spring: About 5 – 6 weeks before I need the bed – around early Sept I’ll dig in the cover crop and sow new brassica seeds indoors so the bed will be ready when the seedlings are.
Bed 5: was onions (and popcorn) – will be squash
At the moment this bed has some red strawberry popcorn in as a catch crop after the onion came out. It is currently at the ‘tassels falling onto the silk’ stage and ideally, I’d like to let the popcorn dry on the plant, so this isn’t going anywhere for a long time.
- Winter: As the popcorn is a gross feeder, I will pop in a lupin cover crop to replace what nutrients have been used. The squash won’t be planted out until late October so there is plenty of time.
- Spring: I’ll dig in the cover crop with enough time for it to rot down and incorporate into the soil before the squash seedlings I will have grown from seed are ready to go in.
Bed 6 was tomatoes – will be onions
The tomatoes were are complete disaster thanks to a late discovery of the Tomato Potato Psyllid. I made some headway in controlling it, but it was too far gone to really save my plants. There are a couple of plants still in the garden who seem to have them but seem to be coping well enough. They are the Yellow Pear and the Big Beef. I’ll be planting these resilient plants again. But they do look a little sad in the bed by themselves with 18 siblings and their pests evicted weeks ago.
- Winter: So, when the time comes and the burden is too much for these last plants I’ll pull them out and burn them and dig in some compost, some manure and some blood and bone and prepare the soil for the onions which will go in as seedlings in mid-winter.
- Spring: All I need to do is weed, feed and water and wait for the harvest in early summer.
Bed 7: Was peas – will be tomatoes
Right now, there is nothing in here, but the framework is still up. I am hoping today or during the week to take advantage of the much-needed rain we had over the weekend to sow an autumn crop and fill the freezer with fresh peas for winter days. I may even see how far I can take this crop into the winter if we don’t get frosts here. It will be interesting to see.
- Winter: once they finish I’ll re-enrich the soil with a nice layer of well-rotted manure and let the worms work it in and create a healthy soil micro community so the tomatoes have a good home to go to where they can grow strong and hopefully be more resilient to the pests that plague them.
- Spring: I’ll sow tomatoes and hope for an abundant harvest.
Bed 8: was brassicas – will be peas
This will continue to be brassicas for a second crop this season over the winter months – I’ll start them off in the nursery bed under a net, protected from the ravages of the cabbage white butterfly. I will have to turf them out early though, if I haven’t eaten them to make way for the peas in the early spring. I’ll re-enrich the bed before putting the new plants in.
- Winter: Then we’ll eat brassicas all winter long until there is none left.
- Spring: I’ll add compost and other goodies to re-enrich soil and sow the peas. I may have to start them in the nursery bed if there are still stragglers – to buy a few more weeks of time.
Now that wasn’t so painful, and it feels so good to have it sorted out.
Come again soon – tomorrow I’ll have the next instalment of what is going where.
Sarah the Gardener : o)