Round and around

Most annual crop growing systems benefit from some sort of rotation, where you grow different crops in the beds from year to year so that you don’t get a build up of pathogens and a depletion of specific nutrients. Your rotation can last three or four years, and there is lots of information available on how to plan; for example the Royal Horticultural Society give  a brief outline of both three- and four-year rotations here. In practice, many vegetable gardeners either do not have the space to practice a rigorous rotation (for example not growing potatoes at all, or only growing them in containers) or simply can’t be bothered.

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

In my small garden, I could be strict with a four-bed rotation as I do have four raised beds. However, I’m not consistent with the crops that I grow, so sometimes I want more than a quarter of the space given over to one type of crop and sometimes less. Also, I like mixing crops in the same bed, which sort of puts a spanner in the works. And anyway, I’m just too disorganised. I like to be creative and spontaneous, so basically I plant what I feel like where I feel like with the proviso that I don’t plant either onions or potatoes in the same place two years running. In fact I try out new crops each year and some of the less conventional ones (like Aztec broccoli or oca) almost certainly have fewer diseases than the standard offerings  and different nutrient demands. I do try to move my beans around each year because (a) they always get a healthy dose of compost dug into their bed before planting and (b) they are nitrogen-fixers, so should help boost the fertility of the place they have been.

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it's being used for mangetout

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it’s being used for mangetout

In addition, in my garden, I do lots of container growing. I make use of loads of home-made compost for this purpose and, of course, it doesn’t just get used once.You can’t, however, plan a rotation for your pots in the same way as for land. Last year I used lots of my fresh compost for potato-growing in dumpy bags. After I harvested the potatoes, I left the compost in the bags, but folded the tops down to protect it. I don’t want to grow potatoes in the same compost this year, so that has been transferred into some big pots for growing mangetout up the fence. Compost that has had tomatoes or peppers growing in it usually gets transferred into a bed that will be used for squashes. Because tomatoes and potatoes both get blight, I try to avoid transfer of spores in compost so don’t use compost from tomato pots in potato beds.

It all sounds quite complicated, but actually, I don’t have any difficulty remembering what I grew where (especially since I always take lots of photos) and deciding where to plant. I’m sure there are some of you out there who love an organised rotation, but you are clearly not scatty like me!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

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16 Comments

  1. I definitely prefer your method of turnaround with crops – it stops the boredom of the same things cycling around every few years 🙂

    Mind you, I always had to write down what had gone where, as I’d never have remembered what I’d put in, or when – and that was before I got ill! Lol

    Your garden is looking super, Jan – and I think you should definitely bring Max around for a visit next time you visit – he’s a real poppet, isn’t he? 🙂

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  2. I know I would never stay organized enough to keep up. I’m a bit like you…I plant things a little willy nilly depending on what I feel like growing at the time. 😀

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  3. Sometimes you also have to go with what the plants are telling you, which is that they prefer a particular location/patch of shade/fence to climb up, irrespective of nice tidy rotation schemes. Personally I’m a great fan of mixing things up in beds too, with the effect that you don’t get regimented rows of stuff, but a profusion of things in different heights and growing habits, tall stuff at the back, trailing stuff at the front, just like a garden bed. There’s no reason a vegie garden can’t look nice as well as be productive.

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  4. Oh dear…it looks like I am going to have to buy (another) journal to write this all down in… I thought that the possums were going to be my biggest challenge! 😉

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  5. Max had the right idea today, the warmest few days of this nice stretch. It’s coming up to Bank Holiday Monday and the gardens need some rain.
    A silly question. Since Monsanto intend to rule the world seed wise would you say it’s unlikely they will have been tempted to modify any of the less popular crops like the Aztec broccoli or oca? When you buy seeds in from merchants do they have to say whether they are from GMO’s? I ask purely because I was reading something this week about organic crops NOT showing that they were the product of irradiated seeds because that doesn’t seem to be classed as GMO though I would argue with that.
    xxx Massive Easter Hugs xxx

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    • I try to buy organic seeds where possible. Many of mine come from The Real Seed Catalogue – lovely people in Pembrokeshire who produce their seeds on a small scale and without massive technology. I love heritage varieties too and support Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library scheme with a donation each year, for which I get several packs of seeds.
      xxx hugs xxx

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  6. Le sigh. The only thing I have growing right now is potatoes in a container. ^_^ I thought about trying carrots next I have seeds, but nowhere to put them just yet.

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    • I feel really lucky to live somewhere with a climate in which we can grow fruit and vegetables and to have enough space to do so… not always enough compost, though!

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  7. I usually have Grand Plans when it comes to crop rotation — lists, drawings, 4 year cycles — and it all comes to naught! I get confused, or some things linger on in the bed I hoped to plant fresh rotation crops in, or I plant other things together just ‘cos I can. 🙂 I am so pleased to hear you say “Just use a little bit of care”.

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    • I certainly suffer from lingering crops…on one occasion for a whole year (purple sprouting broccoli that didn’t sprout first time round, but gave us a great crop second time!).

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