Crop rotation on the Allotment

Crop rotation is a very important part of growing healthy plants and vegetables in your allotment or even in your back garden. But why is this so important. There are two main reasons for this, the first being that by rotating your crops it reduces the probability of soil born diseases and pests affecting your crops every year. The pests and diseases often target certain crops and if they are allowed to seize onto these crops every year they will become more of a problem and will become stronger attacking your crops with a vengeance! If the pests or diseases have no contact with their favoured crops then they will reduce drastically over the rotation period and some will disappear completely so that when you plant out the crops after the rotation they will not be attacked by these nasties.

The second main reason for crop rotation is that certain groups of crops will remove various nutrients from the soil and indeed require certain nutrients to grow healthily, these nutrients need to be replaced in the soil before the crops are replanted in that bed.

a1

Certain crops will also provide ground cover thus cleaning the soil of weed seeds, this makes the life of the allotment holder a lot easier, less time spent weeding allows more time for care of the crops. There are certain crops that are used as gap fillers and will often not be included in the rotation, crops such as sweetcorn, tomatoes (if planted outside) and many salad plants fall into this category.

Your rotation should be planned before actually planting out your crops and it pays to draw out a plan with pen and paper so that you have a reference to look at when you do actually commence planting. The plan can be scaled down from the measurements of your beds thus giving you the chance to see how many crops you can plant in each bed.

Your crops can be divided into five main headers and they are as follows:-

  1. Brassica
  2. Potatoes
  3. Legumes
  4. Root crops
  5. Alliums

The brassica family include crops such as cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, swede and turnips. This is not always black and white as many people will add the swede and turnip to their root crop beds to allow for more space for the green brassica to be planted into.

Potatoes actually belong to the deadly nightshade family and this also includes the tomato plants, most allotment holders will grow their tomatoes in greenhouses or polytunnels or plant them outside separate to the potatoes, this allows more room for the potatoes to be grown in.

Legumes cover a wide range of pea and bean plants, Such examples are runner beans, french climbing beans, dwarf french beans and of course peas.

Root crops are quite self explanatory, they are crops where the root is eaten rather than the foliage. These include beetroot, carrots, parsnips and celery. As mentioned above swede and turnips are often planted with these keeping all the root crops together.

Alliums include onions and will also include garlic, leeks and shallots.

It is generally accepted that 3 year or four rotation is acceptable according to the space that you have to grow your crops. In my case I have a large enough allotment to allow me to have for main beds plus two smaller beds for what I call oddity crops i.e crops that do not come under the general headings such as squash, sunflowers etc.

My four main beds were dug to the same dimensions, each being 12 feet wide and 20 feet in length, this gives me the advantage of knowing that I can plant out the same amount of crops whichever bed they are planted in.

So my 2016 plan for the beds were as follows:-

  • Bed 1- Potatoes
  • Bed 2- Alliums and root crops
  • Bed 3- Legumes
  • Bed 4- Brassicas

Bed 1 Potatoes

a2

This size of bed allowed me to plant 8 rows of potatoes which were 3 rows of Internation kidney- second earlies, 3 rows of Sarpo mira- maincrop and 2 rows of Maris piper- maincrop. This filled the bed nicely and all seed potatoes planted at the correct planting distance.

Bed 2 Alliums and root crops

a3

In this bed there were 3 rows of onions planted, followed by 2 rows of carrots, swede, turnips, beetroot and later in the year 3 rows of leeks. As mentioned the swedes and turnips were used in this bed rather than use valuable space in the brassica bed.

Bed 3 Legumes

a4

I did find with this bed that I had some spare space so also planted out my block of sweetcorn plants and 7 outdoor tomato plants. The legumes that were planted were 2 rows of broad beans, 2 rows of peas, 2 rows of dwarf french beans and 3 wigwams of runner beans ( 12 plants in total). Using up all space is essential to get the most from the beds hence the sweetcorn and tomatoes.

Bed 4- Brassica

a5

As mentioned the brassica bed tends to fill up very quickly. The bed was prepared by adding lime to the soil, this reduces the probability of clubroot in the bed which can be a major problem with brassica. In this bed I managed to plant out 3 rows of cabbages, 2 rows of brussel sprouts, 1 row of kale, 1 row of broccoli, 1 row of cauliflower and a few swiss chard plants.

So once my 2016 planting out was completed the rotation for the following years became much easier to work out, basically the crops move back a bed over the next years until they finally return to their original beds. Thus the future planting will be as follows:-

2017

Bed 1- Alliums and root crops

Bed 2- Legumes

Bed 3- Brassica

Bed 4- Potatoes

2018

Bed 1- Legumes

Bed 2- Brassica

Bed 3- Potatoes

Bed 4 Alliums and root crops

2019

Bed 1- Brassica

Bed 2-Potatoes

Bed 3- Alliums and root crops

Bed 4- Legumes

That will then complete the 4 year rotation as the potatoes in 2020 will reappear in Bed 1 as will all the other crops being planted in their original beds. This method keeps everything simple for me and hopefully it makes perfect sense to yourselves.

Following the rotation should ensure healthier crops and allow you to keep the soil rejuvenated for the next year’s planting!


Cabbage

Brassica oleracea var. capitataCabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata)

Family: Brassicaceae
Related vegetables: arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (all types), cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rutabaga, turnip, horseradish, collards, watercress

Snapshot

  • Hardy biennial harvested the first season. The terminal cluster of leaves, often called a head, is eaten.
  • There are several types of cabbage. You can grow green ones, red ones, or ones with crinkled leaves called savoy cabbage. Round heads are typical but you can also find more flattened or more pointed varieties. There are early maturing varieties, with smaller heads, that are planted in spring to mature before hot weather arrives. Late maturing varieties are commonly planted for fall harvest. They often form very large heads (several pounds) and are best used for preserving (e.g. sauerkraut).
  • Plants are short, about 18”.
  • In spring, plant transplants 2-6 weeks before average last frost date, continuing until very early April in southern Indiana, into May in the coldest part of the state. If growing from seed start indoors 5-7 weeks earlier. Ideal transplants are stocky, have 4-6 true leaves, and stems about the size of a pencil. Plant 12-24” apart in rows a minimum of 18” apart. Spacing within a wide row is 12-18”.
  • For fall harvest, plant transplants 7-9 weeks before average first frost date (about mid-July in northern IN, late August in southern Indiana). Cabbage is quite cold tolerant and you may be able to harvest after that date.
  • First heads can be harvested 7-9 weeks from transplanting though this can vary from 60 days to more than 90 days, depending on variety. Estimated yield per 10 ft row is 5-10 heads.

Sow seeds 1/4-1/2” deep. Seeds are usually started indoors but may be planted in soil for the fall crop. Seeds germinate in 4-5 days at 70-80 °F. Grow on at 60-70 °F with cooler night temperatures. Once planted outdoors, transplants with fewer than 4 true leaves are more sensitive to cold than larger transplants. Very mature transplants (more than 6 leaves) may produce inferior crops or may begin to flower prematurely.

Spring planting dates are usually given as 2-6 weeks before average last frost date. The earliest plantings are chancy because a prolonged cold spell, which will cause the plant to bolt (see “Common Problems” below), is more likely at this time. Wait until soil has warmed to 40 °F before transplanting. Practice crop rotation. Do not plant the same area with a cole crop two years running.


Tomatoes

Lycopersicon esculentumTomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum, formerly Lycopersicon esculentum)

Family: Solanace
Related vegetables: eggplant, pepper and chiles, potato, tomatillo

Snapshot

  • Tender (warm-season) perennial grown as an annual. The fruit is harvested.
  • There are many different types of tomatoes and many different ways to grow them. See “Additional Information” below.
  • Height is cultivar dependent but some tomatoes can grow as tall as 6 ft, especially if staked
  •  Plant transplants two weeks after average last frost date. Planting can continue until midsummer. Last planting date is about 100 days before average first frost dat
  •  Spacing is dependent on variety. Space dwarf plants 12” apart; staked plants 15-24” apart; caged plants and plants allowed to sprawl on the ground 24-36” apart. (see “Additional Information” below
  •  Harvest tomatoes when fully colored. Time from planting to first harvest varies with cultivar, usually 60-90 days. Yield depends on cultural system, see “Additional Information” belo

You can grow your own tomatoes from seeds started indoors or buy transplants. Tomato seeds are rarely planted directly into the garden in Indiana. Start seeds indoors planting them 1/4-1/2” deep, 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date. At optimum germination temperatures of 75-80 °F seedlings should appear in about 6 days. Grow them at 60-75 °F. Transplant into larger pots as the seedlings grow and give them good light so the plants stay short and stocky.

If you purchase transplants, look for short, stocky plants with good root systems and stems about the thickness of a pencil. If you must purchase tall, leggy transplants, plant them by placing them on their side and covering the lower portion of the stem with soil. New roots will form on the stem. Plant out about 2 weeks after the average last frost date or when soil temperature remains above 60 °F. If using cages or stakes, put these in the ground as you place the transplants. If growing in container, select container proportional to the expected size of the plant.


Simple Steps to Set Up Your Garden

Gardening can be one of the most rewarding hobbies that you can take up. While it is an activity that anyone can enjoy, there are a few things that anyone who is starting would be wise to know. From what to plant and what to wear, there is a checklist that everyone should work through.

Gardening-

  • Plan Your Garden: Before you start planting anything, the first thing that you should do is plan exactly what you want in your garden. First, you will want to determine what you want to plant. Are you creating a vegetable garden or do you just want flowers? What plants will thrive in your climate? Doing some basic planning and research will give you a good idea of how far you will be able to take your garden.
  • Get the Gear: If you are just starting out with a garden, chances are that you don’t have any gardening tools. Do yourself a favor and start with the basics. Garden hoes, tils and shovels will be a good start to get your soil in top shape. You will obviously want to have the seeds and fertilizer to get your plants to grow. Finally, don’t forget about clothing. You will want some activewear that you won’t mind getting dirty. You can use a Groupon discount code to get some clothing from ASOS, or simply use old clothes that you have laying around the house.
  • Use Your Space Wisely: You should also measure out how much space you will want to devote to your garden. Doing this not only allows you to plan out what supplies you need, but it will also give you a general idea of how much time you need to devote to your garden. A good idea is to start small, that way you don’t overwhelm yourself. From there, you can use more space (if you have it) to build up a larger garden provided you have the time. Plotting out how to use your space will give you the best garden possible.

Gardening is an activity that is never too late to start, you can also do it well into your elderly years. Getting out into nature is always a positive and following a few simple steps will set you up nicely for success with your garden.


Cauliflower

Brassica oleracea var. botrytisCauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis)

Family: Brassicace
Related vegetables: arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (all types), cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rutabaga, turnip, horseradish, collards, watercress

Snapshot

  • Cauliflower is a hardy biennial. The head, called the curd, is made of dormant flower buds. The curd is usually white (snowball type), blanched by pulling the leaves over the head during growth. Hybrids between broccoli and cauliflower are available with purple or green heads (“broccoflower”). Purple cauliflower tastes like broccoli if harvested before frost, like cauliflower if harvested after frost. The purple color is lost during cooking
  • Plants are medium height, about 3 ft
  • For spring planting, put transplants in the ground 2-3 weeks before average last frost date after the soil has warmed to 50 °F. Do not plant so late that the curd matures in the heat of the summer. If growing from seed, plant indoors 5-7 weeks earlier. Space plants 18-24” apart with rows a minimum of 24” apart. Spacing within a wide row is 12-18”
  • For fall harvest, plant transplants 7-9 weeks before average first frost date (about mid-August in northern Indiana, late August in southern Indiana). Put transplants further apart than the spacing listed for spring plantings
  • Cauliflower is ready for harvest 50-55 days from transplanting for early season cultivars and in 70- 80 days for late season varieties. Harvest by cutting far enough below the head to include several leaves to help hold the head together. Each plant produces only one head. Estimated yield per 10 ft row is 10 lb

Sow seeds 1/4-1/2” deep. Seeds are usually started indoors but may be planted in soil for the fall crop. Seeds germinate in 5-6 days at 70-80 °F. Grow on at 60-70 °F with cooler night temperatures. If using transplants, don’t let them get too large (no more than about 4”) before planting. However, plants with less than 3-4 pairs of true leaves are sensitive to frost. Practice crop rotation. Do not plant the same area with a cole crop two years running.


Brussels Sprouts

Brassica oleracea var. gemmiferaBrussels Sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera)

Family: Brassicaceae
Related vegetables: arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (all types), cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, rutabaga, turnip, horseradish, collards, watercress

Snapshot

  • Hardy biennial harvested at the end of the first season.
  • Enlarged buds at the base of leaves, called sprouts, are harvested during first season of growth.
  • Medium height, 2- 3 ft.
  • Spring plantings are usually not successful. This vegetable needs a long season of growth and cool weather as the buds mature.
  • For fall harvest, start seeds in mid-June to transplant into the garden in late July-early August. Space 18-24” apart, with minimum row spacing of 24”. Spacing within a wide row is 18-24”. • First harvest is 85-100 days from transplanting, 130 days from seed. Lowest buds mature first. Harvest when they are 1-2” in diameter. Remove the leaves at the base of the buds you harvest.

Plant seeds 1/4”-1/2” deep. Germination is best at 70-80 °F and seedlings will appear in about 5 days. Grow the seedlings a bit cooler, at 60-70 °F. They will be ready for transplanting in 4-5 weeks. You may also be able to purchase transplants. If you try a spring planting, put transplants out early, in March or early April. Summer planting for fall harvest are more common. Have plants in the ground by early July in northern Indiana, by mid-August in southern Indiana. Practice crop rotation. Do not plant the same area with a cole crop two years running.