We are in the process of revising our crop rotation scheme, and even though our garden is small (for a market grower, that is), it is still giving us headaches. No matter how well we think we have planned ahead, little snags keep popping up.
As organic and sustainable farmers, we know the value of rotating crops. The practice helps us minimize soil-borne diseases and soil depletion. It also makes the insects work a little harder, though if they hatch from last year's squash patch, they only have to travel a few feet to get to this year's patch.
When you are growing a variety of vegetables, trying to cover all the major families, in a limited space, the rotation scheme can quickly get out of hand. I don't know how we would ever have figured it out without help. We started with the 8-plot home garden rotation recommended by Dr. Bob Randall in his book Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston. Dr. Randall is a founder of Houston's amazing organization Urban Harvest and is probably the leading expert on growing food crops in the Houston area.
We have since outgrown the 8-plot rotation, and have also found over the last year that we want to allocate the growing area a little differently. Dr. Randall is a lot more fond of tropical squashes than we are, and we definitely needed more room for the nightshade family (tomato, pepper, eggplant, tomatillo) than he has in his plan. We now have 15 rows in the main garden, so I developed a 5-section rotation with 3 rows per section.
It was a nice, tidy scheme, in theory. The reality of transitioning has been less pretty. It is complicated because most of the produce we will sell in the first few weeks of the spring farmer's market was planted last fall. At that time we were still trying to crowd everything into the original 8 rows. Now we are entering the spring planting frenzy and keep finding that there are healthy, productive plants in the way of the new plantings. Every other week it seems there is another little snag. We have to prepare rows for the tomatoes, but the overwintering kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are still there, growing nicely. There are beautiful lettuce plants in the row we will need soon for spring legumes.
So it feels like we are doing a little dance right now, trying to keep the priority on the new crops, but not wanting to tear out existing plants. Some of them are going into the compost; at least the nutrients will be recycled into the garden. We have also been able to relocate a plant or two. Some lush, green cilantro and parsley plants happened to be in the way of the new bush beans. Ed dug up a couple and moved them.
He is standing behind the row from which he dup up the plant; its new home is the row behind him. Just a few feet away. It seems a little silly, but the rotation is important for the overall health of our garden. We hope the plants survive being disturbed.
Once we get well into the spring, these problems should go away. Unless we realize we left something out of the rotation plan completely. "Time to plant the peanuts... where the heck do they go? Uh-oh!" I hope that doesn't happen!