Well, I’ve bought my seeds (see my post for January) and have to confess to getting a few more than I’d originally intended, so this makes planning the vegetable garden rather more crucial than usual. I find planning one of the hardest things to do because it’s so easy to get it wrong and end up with plants waiting to go in and no-where to put them. And so many things need to be taken into account: some parts of my veg garden don’t get much rain, others don’t get much sun, others are where I grew brassicas last year so they’re no use for brassicas this year. Some of my beds still have stuff in them (leeks and spring cabbages) so they’re no good for planting or sowing anything early. And when you also take crop rotation, crop succession and intercropping into account, you need a plan in 4 dimensions. And I don’t know about you, but my head starts to explode at about this point.
However, it is important to make a proper plan. A scribbled sketch on a bit of paper is all very well but, in my experience , it tends to get covered in earth and annotated so illegibly it’s pretty well useless. So now I have a plan on the computer which I fill in afresh each year. This helps me keep track of what I grew where and when and how far apart and how many. Until recently, my plan was made in Microsoft Onenote (free download), but since I couldn’t work out how to export it as jpeg for this blog I recently sat down to sketch out my plan with the photo-editor Adobe Photoshop Elements . This took quite a bit of time and it’s still a work in progress. Ultimately, I intend to put details of plants and rows at the correct spacing but at the moment I only have text notes to show what goes where. Another option is to use commercial garden planning software. I’m sure there are lots out there but the only one I have experience with is Suttons Garden Planner which is quite good and relatively easy to use. It costs £19 per year but you can get it free for 7 days. Suttons have produced quite a nice video in which they talk about garden planning and show you bit about how their planner can be used.
My basic plan
As you can see, my veg garden is made up of raised beds. These are each of a standard width (1.2 m) and roughly the same length (6 m). One advantage of fixed size beds is that my veg cages, which, conveniently, are made from 1.2 m wide poles, can be moved from bed to bed as required.
The point of rotating crops is to ‘grow specific groups of vegetables on a different part of the vegetable plot each year. This helps to reduce a build-up of crop-specific pest and disease problems and it organises groups of crops according to their cultivation needs.’ This quote is taken from part of the RHS website, which has lots of useful information on crop rotation.
According to the RHS, on a three year rotation plan, brassicas should follow legumes, onions and roots. Legumes, onions and roots should follow potatoes and potatoes should follow brassicas. This is all very well in theory but would require me to grow the same area of one type of crop as the other types. Which I don’t do. I grow a lot of different brassicas, which need quite a bit of space, but very few onion type plants or potatoes. And I do grow stuff that doesn’t fit into the plan, such as courgettes. So I regard crop rotation as something to be put into practice where I can and ignored where I can’t. But I do try not to grow the same thing in the same place year after year – which means keeping track from year to year of what went where.
Growing in succession
If you have a small veg garden, as I do, it’s important to make use of every bit of it at all times of the year. One way to do this is to grow in succession. Garlic I planted last October will be lifted in June, and I can plant something else, maybe an overwintering kale or cabbage. French beans are generally planted only when it’s warm enough, so they’ll be going where an overwintering vegetable (spring cabbages) is currently occupying the ground. Needless to say this sort of succession really complicates any attempt at crop rotation!
The other type of growing in succession is sowing the same vegetable at intervals. I’m not very good at this so always end up with masses of peas, for example, all ready to eat at the same time. If only I’d sowed one row a few weeks later than the first …
And don’t forget about green manure. If it’s warm enough in early September I generally sow some phaecelia to overwinter and then be dug in in the spring.
This is another technique for making the most of your garden. Some plants grow a lot slower than others so the space between them can be used for quick maturing crops such as lettuce or radish. Traditionally the space between rows of parsnips is an good place to put in a row of early radishes which will be out of the ground before the parsnip really get going. I like to put rows of salad leaves or rocket between my courgettes.
Vegetable groups in my garden
Brassicas I grow a lot of different types and this year I’ll be growing more than ever since I’m going to grow Kohlrabi, Flower-sprouts, tenderstem brocolli, a winter cabbage and oriental cabbage this year, as well as regular broccoli, cauliflowers, sprouts, kale and swede. Not sure where they’re all going to fit in! They all need to be covered so I tend to grow late brassicas together in one long bed and early brassicas in a part bed.
Potatoes I generally grow only a few early potatoes, maybe 12 plants, but this year I’ll be growing a few more. The extras will be going into an area ear-marked for the planting of fruit trees this autumn.
Legumes, onions and roots Roots: I grow a 1.2 m square of carrots which gives me enough to last well into the spring. I also grow parsnips (2 rows) and beetroot (1 or 2 rows). Onions: I don’t grow regular onions (white rot in the soil), but I do grow leeks, garlic and spring onions and this year I’m going to try out a few shallots. Legumes: I grow broad beans, dwarf French beans, runner beans and peas (petit pois). Runner beans need support so I grow them up a fixed ‘turret’ of which I have two, alternating annually between beans and sweetpeas. Both are legumes so this isn’t ideal.
Salad crops and other vegetables This includes lettuce, salad leaves, spinach and courgettes. Courgettes take up a lot of space so if I’m short I’ll probably grow fewer plants. Salad crops can usually be squeezed in wherever there’s space. I also have a cold frame which can be pressed into service for ‘tender’ vegetables. This year it will be used for cucumbers.
So, taking rotation, succession and intercropping into account (as if!) here’s my plan for my various raised vegetable beds in 2017:
Red is what was planted last year. Some of this is still growing in February (shown in italics). Green is what will be going in this year. I’ve managed to follow rotation ‘rules’ by planting potatoes after brassicas and some legumes after potatoes, but mostly I’ve only managed to not plant the same thing in the same place. In the bottom bed for example I’ll be growing the same crops as last year, but I’ll be swapping them from end to end.
Fortunately, I have a few other bits of the garden I can use. A bit of herb garden I grew garlic in last year might be used for salad stuff. Both ‘turrets’ for runner beans/sweet peas are in the flower garden, and will be under-planted with something or other. I also have space under some fruit bushes and between asparagus plants where I might plant shallots.
So, by the middle of the summer, if everything goes according to my master plan, there will be no earth to be seen at all, and my garden will be heaving with lovely vegetables!