Garden Planning and Crop Rotation

out in the garden taking stock: new plans and tasks that need attention (the first in my case must be the shed)

January is such a good time to evaluate your garden. What could be better than stepping out with a clipboard, making sketches and notes and even - an aspect that always thrills me - creating a new plot. In my case, this always means reclaiming, for last year I spent more time writing about the different mini-gardens within our acre plot than actually working in them! Experienced gardeners will no doubt have everything under control (though you can't plan the weather), but if you are new to the 'keen and dedicated gardening community' you may appreciate a few tips.

plan for the raised beds in my 'square foot' plot
This week, we’ll consider ‘edibles’ and annual crop rotation. Ignoring space for fruit, herbs and perennial vegetables such as globe artichokes, rhubarb or asparagus, look at your soil type, orientation of plot or beds and weather patterns – rainfall and frost pockets etc, then list what you want to grow. Don't initially get carried away; it's all too easy to overwhelm yourself. Salads are easy, and quick (an advantage if your children are helping) and can be grown almost anywhere. But rotation of other crop types is essential. Crops require nourishing; soil becomes infertile if the same vegetables are grown in the same place year after year, they absorb or use specific necessary nutrients from the soil and weaker crops, crop failure and disease are all the more likely.

the 'square foot' plot in the summer of  2010 (or was it 2009?)
So, having decided what you want to grow, split them into types: Roots, Brassicas and ‘Others’: divide your plot – or beds – to allow annual space for each type (adding a fourth if you want to grow many potatoes). Take a look at this excellent Vegetable Planner and Calendar (opens as a pdf) prepared by Dobies, which you can download for free. It provides a wealth of advice in a simple, easy-to-understand format. And the better to visualize the concept of rotation, this chart should also help.
a three-year rotational cropping plan (add a fourth plot if you wish to grow a large quantity of potatoes)
Now you should be ready to order your seeds and prepare the ground as soon as the weather is fit. And as this is a Dobies blog, you will not think it strange that I sow Dobies seeds! I've been using them for years and have always found the advice given in their catalogue to be accurate and helpful. And their plug plants are a godsend for busy gardeners; the various collections available last year enabled me to grow superb crops when I did not have the time to sow.

our acre of Cotswold garden also has space for an allotment-style plot (entirely cared for by my husband)
See you again next week – and meanwhile, a huge thankyou to all who have viewed our first post, and even more so to those who left us a comment, and / or have indicated they will be following the blog. (This post written by contributor, Ann Somerset Miles.)

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