We’ve grown our own for years and I love it, the satisfaction that comes from picking our own fresh veg, herbs and fruit for lunch, dinner, guests or just us is immense. Our garden faces east so the sunniest spot is at the bottom of the garden which is bordered by a wild field and its a place that makes me very happy. My family benefit too, I know exactly how our produce is grown plus there are no air miles involved!
The area is about 10 meters wide by 20 metres deep. We have ‘no dig’ raised beds, the plan is we do not stand on them therefore the ground does become compacted by our weight, I also work with a crop rotation plan to ensure the best health of our soil. Each year we rotate five of the six beds. One is permanently planted with Autumn Bliss Raspberries and Strawberries.
There are three main reasons for rotating crops, keep growing the same crop in the same place and the build up of potential soil borne pests and diseases affecting what you grow increases. Secondly, the same bit of soil with the same crop year after year would deplete vital soil nutrients and thirdly some crops e.g. Runner Beans (Legumes) are nitrogen fixers and they can actually benefit the crop that follows.
Essentially there is 5 main rotating crop groups which work best in this order, as the soil conditions and requirements for the preceding crop benefit the following crops.
Legumes (Beans and Peas)
PORLB if you grow all 5, PORL if 4 groups – not everyone likes to grow a brassica.
Its mainly straightforward, but as with all families there is the odd surprise. – Turnips and Swede are in the brassica family, but these root brassica’s generally have less troubles and than the leafy brassicas e.g. Cabbages. Some crops will just slot in anywhere as they do not carry or encourage pests and diseases such as the marrow, squash and courgette family.
Our soil is naturally sandy and low in nutrients, so to increase fertility we add in plenty of home made compost, well rotted horse manure, comfrey leaves in trenches and as a tea and ten days before sowing some pelleted chicken manure. We also sow the gorgeous Phacelia tanacetifolia as a green manure in the Autumn, if the weather is kind it may survive a mild winter. Sowings made from April add nitrogen; its seriously pretty and the bees just love it.
I keep a notebook to jot down which seeds I planned and what actually worked. I have a five year diary too, filled with notes on weather, wildlife visitors, birds, bees, beneficial insects, butterflies, frogs and the unwanted – slugs, snails and voles. I note what worked best and when I sowed and harvested, peppered with doodles of peas on pea sticks and the odd rude word when its goes a bit pear shaped.
Plans written down and sketched out make a crop rotation plan easy in the following years, its a great productive use of time when the weather is grim too. Its easy to plan for the next 4 years, as I will just be moving one crop to the next area the following year, thats something that can be done on any size plot too.
I draw 5 boxes to represent the 5 crop groups or whatever number of crop families you are growing, dividing my chosen vegetable family selections, into the relevant family boxes.
So that’s year 1 done. To achieve a 4 year rotation, I repeat this on another 4 sheets of paper, each time moving the crops around to the next box. Voila! A four year crop rotation on paper, planned and recorded. Nothing is written in stone though and I find every year something to add in and take out, usually brassicas. I add into my plan when I intend add any home made compost, leaf mould or in the case of brassicas possibly lime. Compost and leaf mould go on any bed, the more the better.
Time well spent, leaving valuable time to sit with a cup of tea or something stronger and just take it all in, watch those insects at work, a little wildlife watching is good for the soul.