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Crop Rotation

April 6th, 2007 by Karsten

To maintain a healty soil structure, and cater for the different crops’ wants and needs, it is important not to grow the same crop in the same spot year after year.

If you do you’re likely to experience two basic problems:

  1. Soil-living pests and diseases that thrive on the crop grown will increase steadily, and could reach epidemic proportions.
  2. The nutrients contained in the soil will become unbalanced, and the crop will perform badly.

The answer to these two problems, and the reason for dividing the crops into plant-families, is called crop rotation.

Once you have identified where on your plot you’re going to grow your vegetables (excluding areas used for permanent crops), divide your plot into sections (3-5 according to the number of plant families you have).

In your first year of growing (based on 3 plant families), grow plant family 1 in section 1, plant family 2 in section 2 and plant family 3 in section 3.

In your second year of growing, grow plant family 3 in section 1, plant family 1 in section 2 and plant family 2 in section 3.

In the third year of growing, grow plant family 2 in section 1, plant family 3 in section 2 and plant family 1 in section 3.

The fourth year is a repeat of year 1 - and so on….

The same system applies for any other number of plant families used.

For those unable - or unwilling - to practice crop rotation, the rule of thumb is to grow a root crop in one place one year - and then an “above ground” crop the next year - then back to a root crop again.

If a crop under-performs in one spot one year - it should never be followed by a crop from the same plant family the following year.

Sticking to these simple rules will ensure that you’ll be more successful in growing your crops year after year.

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Plant families

April 5th, 2007 by Karsten

When planning your plot, after deciding what crops you’re going to grow, it’s time to divide the seeds into groups, according to the “family” they belong to.

Traditionally a vegetable plot would be divided into 3 sections, hence 3 plant families, but over the recent years another family has been added for those with plots big enough (most allotment plots will be). On top of that there’s an option to have a fifth section on the go - set out for resting the soil - or growing green manure.

The traditional 3 plant families

If your plot is rather small - or you use only parts of it for vegetable growing - it would be adviceable to go with the traditional 3 family plan. In this plan the crop is divided into the following groups:

  1. Roots, Beetroot, Carrot, Chicory, Jerusalem Artichoke, Parsnip, Potato, Salsify and Scorzonera
  2. Brassicas, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohl Rabi, Radish, Swede and Turnip
  3. Others, Aubergine, Bean, Capsicum, Celeriac, Celery, Cucumber, Leek, Lettuce, Marrow, Onion, Pea, Spinach, Sweet Corn and Tomato.

Each plant family has different needs - and the soil where you plan to grow them should be treated differently. In the following, manuring means adding manure to the top soil, and italics indicates an must have need.

  1. Roots. Do not add manure. Do not lime. Rake in a general purpose fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting.
  2. Brassicas. Add some manure or compost, partucularly to soil short of humus. Lime the soil, unless you are sure it’s already alkaline. Rake in a general purpose fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting.
  3. Others. Add a liberal amount of manure or compost. Lime - but only if the soil is known to be acid. Rake in a general purpose fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting.

The 4-family system

Recently some gardeners organisations have started implementing and recommending a 4-family system. In this system, potatoes and other plants from the night shadow family of plants, and plants requiring similar treatment has been moved out into their own group.

The groups now look like this:

  1. Potatoes, Courgettes, Marrow, Peppers, Pumpkins and Tomatoes.
  2. Legumes, Beans, Peas and Green manure.
  3. Brassicas, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohl Rabi, Radish, Swede and Turnip
  4. Roots and Onions, Beetroot, Parsnips, Carrots, Onions, Shallots, Garlic and Leeks

The recommended soil preparation for the 4 groups looks like this:

  1. Potatoes. Add manure or compost. Do not lime. Rake in a general fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting.
  2. Legumes. Add a liberal amount of manure or compost. Lime - but only if the soil is known to be acid. Rake in a general purpose fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting
  3. Brassicas. Add some manure or compost, partucularly to soil short of humus. Lime the soil, unless you are sure it’s already alkaline. Rake in a general purpose fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting.
  4. Roots and onions. Do not add manure. Do not lime. Rake in a general purpose fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting.

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Planning an allotment plot

March 31st, 2007 by Karsten

Before putting any seeds or plants in the soil on your plot, you should make up a plan of what you’ll be growing, and where. This is particularly important if you want to grow your crop organically.

The main reason why you should plan ahead is that different plants require different treatment. Some plants will want certain kinds of plantfood that other plants dislike. Some plants binds nutrients to the soil that are beneficial to other plants - so growing those plants in their place the following year is a good idea. Finally, growing the same crop in the same place year after year will result in underperforming plants, due to soilborne diseases and unbalanced soil structure.

The word used to describe the above in one is: “Crop Rotation”. This is what farmers and gardeners used to do before the chemical fertilisers and pest controls became available - and this is what organic farmers and gardeners are re-discovering.

We’re going to look at crop rotation in more detail at a later date - but basically it’s about dividing the plants you want to grow into groups - based on what “family” they belong to. Traditionally a system of 3 plant types, hence a 3-year rotation, has been used - but within the last few years changes has been made to accommodate 1 or 2 new groups - depending on your plot size.

This means that you’d have to know what crops you wish to grow on your plot - based on your personal preferences - and divide them into the relevant groups.

Why not start making up that list today by looking through the online catalogues of Dobies or Suttons - and place an order for your seeds? Tomorrow I’ll be back with in-depth information on the plant groups - and how to prepare your soil for growing them.

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