Last time, I started my discussion on how to plan your garden so that it is most productive all year round by giving advice on companion planting. Companion planting, or the practice of growing vegetables with herbs and flowers, is useful for deterring pests and keeping the soil in balance as different crops need different nutrients as they grow. However, whilst some crops return nutrients to the soil that can be used by others, if members of the same crop family are grown together in the same place year after year, nutrients can be depleted and pests will be encouraged to return. Most farmers and many seasoned gardeners follow the practice of crop rotation to improve yield, moving crop families around the plot each year in a particular order.
Even in a small garden, crops can be rotated to take advantage of the many benefits. In fact, I recently designed a system of rotated raised beds for a family to grow food on their garden patio. The children really enjoyed growing the tomatoes and courgettes in particular. Hopefully, the following advice will encourage you to try it for yourself – no excuse!
A popular crop rotation plan is the 5 year system; potatoes, roots, legumes, brassicas, followed by “others”. If you will not be growing one of these, you can just leave them out, but do not forget to feed (or not feed) the family groups according to their requirements.
As a general rule, potatoes are excellent for breaking up a heavy soil and are ideal for clearing a new plot. Root crops, such as carrots, like a light soil and can follow potatoes. Do not manure before growing root crops as they need to grow downwards for nutrients and may otherwise be “stumpy”. However, after roots, feed the bed in preparation for legumes. A good tip is to dig a ditch, line with newspaper and fill with kitchen waste before covering over with soil to rot over the winter prior to planting out bean seedlings in the spring. Brassicas will follow the legume family to make the most of the nitrogen left behind in the soil. Several crops are not part of a particular family in crop rotation and can either be planted by themselves or can fill gaps around the plot. Examples include squash, sweetcorn and salad leaves.
If any part of the plot is bare during the year, I would encourage you to grow green manure, such as phacelia and red clover. As well as covering the soil and deterring weeds, these plants are attractive, encourage beneficial insects and can be dug into the soil after flowering to add nutrients.
The rotation of crops is an agricultural method that has been recorded for many years in history. Ancient Roman farmers called it “food, feed and fallow” in which the land was divided into three sections. Each year, one plot was used to grow food to eat, the next was used to grow food for livestock and the third remained fallow to replenish its nutrients. The development of crop rotation by aptly nicknamed Charles “Turnip” Townshend was a key factor in the British Agricultural Revolution in the 18th century.
By following the principles of companion planting and crop rotation, your garden should be productive most of the year. Do not forget to include perennials in your design to add continual structure. Rhubarb is an easy plant to grow that will soon spread and can be used in many dishes. The artichoke is an impressive plant with edible buds and the stems of its relative, the cardoon, can be blanched and eaten like asparagus.
All seeds can be purchased at www.originaltouch.co.uk
Author and Speaker – Samantha Ford – 01673 866677
Samantha can be booked to give talks to groups on gardening and the history of our food by visiting www.sowwhat.co.uk