Plan your season in the garden and crop rotation.

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Why plan your garden and organize crop rotation?

Different plant species draw on soil nutrients in varying proportions . When some of them give back some of the nitrogen, others use it in potash, or spare the reserve of the aluminum soil completely. As a result, having certain cultures succeed is totally unproductive, while others are complementary. 
It is an important component of agricultural and market gardening science. It has provoked in other techniques the development in the Middle Ages of the “triennial rotation”, a rotation of different crops and meadows over a three-year cycle.

The appearance of manures and organic fertilizers, then chemical fertilizers are also an attempt to answer this “soil fatigue”.

But how important is it to worry about the vegetable garden?

The methods of the “pros” of production have gradually rubbed off on individuals, and some gardeners have started to organize their gardens with productivist imperatives .

So we plant and sow in rows or in large areas , in order to rationalize circulation and to mechanize weeding, watering, and other repetitive planting operations. And of course you have to rotate your crop areas to evenly deplete your soil 😉

The zoning method – the search for the perfect rotation.

Everyone in his corner

Traditionally, vegetable gardens are organized in zones : the vivacious condiment plants like thyme and mint in a corner or on a line that does not move, the sun-loving gourmands in another, potatoes and other plants that have need to be hobbled together, strawberries in their corner to them, etc.

This way of thinking about your garden has the advantage of being able to place fixed areas on a plane, and to rotate your groups of plants from one zone to another each season . We put potatoes where squash, squash instead of tomatoes, tomatoes instead of beans, beans instead of cabbage … And then we slip for example carnations, onions and other borders to provoke beneficial associations.

It’s beautiful, it’s “clean”. To plan all this, you have to make a plan of his garden , distinguish above the sunny areas from those in the shade, then note in early spring on a sheet of tracing what we planted, and where. 
Then you have to draw a new layer every season , and stack them as you go to see if you do not have the same plants all the time in the same places. Special attention should be paid to plants of the Brassicaceae family – cabbages – Solanaceae and Cucurbitaceae . They are great gourmands. 
Doing that with a computer drawing program works very well as well.

The main drawbacks are that it takes a lot of time , that you have to be organized, and learn intensively about the species-specific rotation rhythms.

The other problem is that all this planning and organization of space is at odds with natural gardening methods . Once you stop using a tiller, planting in large areas loses its meaning.

Plant by small spots and enjoy the chance.

If you observe the natural distribution of plants – for example, in an undergrowth or meadow – you will find that they are either stained or ”  scattered “, apparently scattered at random. 
The species organized in spots are often perennials that can spend several years to multiply gradually. The scattered layout is more common for annuals, because they are rescaled each year. Bulbous plants are a kind of intermediate, dispersed and mixed with other species.

What lessons can be drawn from this observation? First of all, areas where there is only one species of annual or bulbous are rare. We can therefore deduce that they are adapted to mix with other species. 
The other lesson is that if you try to plant your perennials hoping they do not spread in spots you expose yourself to disappointments.

So, why not organize your vegetable garden with fixed perennial spots between which to mix bulbs and annuals ?

Form a “structure” of perennials.

Start by placing your traffic on a map. These do not need to have a spaghetti shape to respect nature or the environment, what matters to your plants is the quality of the soil and the space they have. 
Then, put groups of perennials – like raspberries and strawberries – in spots, associating them according to their height and vigor . Your strawberry plants will not be happy next to raspberries that expand quickly and exceed them by a good meter. On the other hand they can slip in the lower aromatics, or in front of some currant bushes.

Proper sizing of intervals between perennials is important; it must be large enough for the light to illuminate properly what you will plant there. Keep gaps of varying sizes for added flexibility.

It is enough to take care of small areas between the perennials where intercrop cultures with the short cycle, as here the spaces between the artichoke and the rose could accommodate radishes, lettuces or arroche. 

You can even plant bulbs or vegetables in perennial groups if there are gaps.

Spread and spin

The organized rotation of cultures is a puzzle . When one does not want / can not control everything, it is always possible to refer to the probabilities. And they tell us that if we plant in large areas of the same species, the probability of replanting the same species on the same surface is strong. 
Why ? Simply because of experience, the gardener often has only 2 or 3 locations that can accommodate his 40 grouped potato plants. So he is forced to replant in the same place every three years.

On the other hand, for the gardener who divides his crops , the probability that all the plants of a species will all fall in a site occupied the year before by the same species becomes negligible. This is the “risk smoothing” by multiple draws; in probability it is very rare to fail 40 times in a row if we rely solely on chance.

“One can deceive once a thousand people, but one can not fool a person a thousand times”

Ed .: here the author of this article was entitled to a glance from the reviewer, who apologizes to the unfortunate who have never seen “The film of Dummies”. 
In addition, the number of places where to slip a potato plant – and not a group of forty – is much larger. 
Your sharpened minds have understood that in these conditions, we necessarily replant a few feet in the wrong place. But is not it tolerable? 🙂

In conclusion, yes you have to rotate your crops, but you can do without complex planning by being methodical: planting small groups of the same species, and intercropping perennials and annuals are usually sufficient. And think of adding a plant cover in the fall on bare areas, of course.

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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