So I’ve been thinking about crop rotation recently. So far I’ve just been building raised beds and planting things as I like. I’ve kept them in separate family groups and knew I wouldn’t re-plant them in the same bed next year, but beyond that had no long term plans. That’s all changed now! I started off by deciding how many beds I would need by finalising what crops I would grow:
1. Potatoes (including some outdoor tomatoes)
2. Alliums (onions, garlic, leeks and shallots)
3. Legumes (squash’s and sweet corn also go here as per the Mayan ‘three sisters’ style of growing)
4. Brassicas (all the cabbages, broccoli, turnips, etc … )
5. Root crops (carrots, parsnips, celery, celeriac, etc … )
6. Salad crops and annual herbs (what it says on the tin)
There it is, my 6 crops. Not many people have a 6 year rotation plan. Most are 4 by bunching the alliums and roots together and just growing salads where they can, but I love the onion family too much to not grow a full bed of them! And growing more salad will (in theory) make me eat more salad.
So then I decided what are the absolute must rules in the rotation plan:
1. Thick coat of fresh manure in the bed every 2 years.
2. Green manures and/or compost on alternate years (matching the green manure to the family group rotation plan).
3. Lime the bed 2 years running before the brassicas (it’s more effective than just 1 big lime)
And then a few less important but equally valid rules for the plan:
4. No manure or compost before root vegetables to stop them shooting.
5. Hungarian rye green manure before salad crops for a really fine soil texture.
6. Brassicas follow legumes so they benefit from the extra nitrogen fixed in the soil.
So, how does this look when all put together …
Year 1: Uncover the bed in spring and dig in the manure. Sow potatoes and outdoor tomatoes. At the end of the season lime heavily then sow with field beans (green manure of the legume family) to overwinter.
Year 2: In early spring cut down the field beans. Compost the tops but leave the nitrogen fixing roots in the ground. A month or so later dig over, add well rotted compost and sow legumes, squash and sweet corn. In autumn cover with a thick layer of fresh manure and cover with thick plastic.
Year 3: Uncover the bed in spring and dig over. A month or so later lime heavily. Sow brassicas. In autumn cover any space not still occupied by winter brassicas with crimson clover (a green manure of the brassica family).
Year 4: In spring harvest the last of the brassicas. Cut the crimson clover back and dig in. Do not add compost. Use the bed for root crops. In autumn add a thick layer of fresh manure and cover with thick plastic.
Year 5: Uncover the bed in spring and dig over. Use the bed for alliums*. In autumn sow Hungarian rye grass (a green manure for good soil texture) around the remaining leeks to overwinter.
Year 6: In spring harvest the last of the leeks and cut back the Hungarian rye grass. Leave a few weeks then dig in with some additional well rotted compost. Use for salad crops and annual herbs. In autumn add a thick layer of fresh manure and cover with thick plastic.
* note: The previous year one patch would have had winter garlic sown instead of being covered with manure and plastic.
I’m sure overtime this’ll change and adapt as need be, and this doesn’t even take into account the perennials and fruit, but I feel better for having the vegetable plan laid out. I’ve not even gotten all beds built yet but at least I know where I’m heading …