My seed orders are starting to arrive in the mail, which would be more exciting if we didn't have inches of snow on the ground and more falling as we speak. It is hard to envision the beds bursting with vegetables when I can't even see them under a thick blanket of white! This is my task right now, though. My planting plan is the basis of the work I will do over the next eight or nine months. From starting seeds indoors to extending the season in October, the crops I chose and their placement in the beds is the blueprint I will follow.
|The plan on the left is my 2013 plan. The one on the right is for this year.|
As the seeds arrive I am making a planting schedule (more on that later) but the most important decisions are where to plant everything. Crop rotation means not planting members of the same crop family in the same spot year after year. This prevents the spread of diseases that lie dormant in the soil and also allows for plants to replenish the soil. Beans, for example add nitrogen to the soil and are good to plant in a spot where plants that pull a lot of nitrogen from the soil had grown, such as tomatoes or leafy vegetables. Root vegetables tend to be lighter nutrient feeders.
|Last year's plan with adjustments added as the season progressed.|
One of the biggest challenges of urban farming, I think, is to try and apply the rules of crop rotation to urban spaces. When you have a field to plant in, with consistent full sun and ample room in which to spread your plants out, it is a much easier to make sure crops are rotated correctly. When you have a small space with a wide variation of sunlight, finding a rotation where all your plants will be happy is challenging to say the least!
|2014's pristine work in progress plan!|
Last year I decided to plant my beds by plant family: all the squashes together; all the brassicas together, etc. The idea was to make rotation easier. I could just move all the plants forward one bed each year. This seemed like a good plan but then we had a really bad year for disease and I lost whole crops to powdery mildew and early blight as it leaped from plant to plant. I also had poor yield on some crops because to keep them in rotation I had to plant them in inadequate light.
This year I plan to rotate but keep family members separated (can't we all just get along?) and plant according to sun requirements. I think with the addition of lots of compost and aged manure, the beds will be fertile and productive. I do plan on getting a pH test done next month.
Last year I had an excellent potato yield. It was one of my biggest successes. After much deliberation I have decided not to put potatoes in the soil this year. Potato blight is slowly creeping towards New England and once you get it, the soil is ruined. It just isn't worth the risk so I am going to try potato bags instead.
The same is true with tomatoes. Disease is a major problem and to try to limit this I plan on only growing a couple of plants in the soil. The rest will be grown in pots and in some new raised beds we are planning. I will also be growing zucchini in pots this year to try and minimize the spread of powdery mildew and vine borer grubs.
As you can see from my plan, this long bed is my perennial fruit bed. This year I will add ground cherries but the rest will stay the same. In addition to these beds I am planning a container herb garden on the back deck and more vegetable beds on the side and front of the house.
Once I'm happy with the plan I'll map out the number of plants I can fit in the beds. Again, learning from my mistakes last year, fewer plants with more room for air circulation makes for healthier plants and bigger yields!
Each year brings new gardening challenges and lessons. Would I love an acre of open field to plant in? I would, but finding ways to grow vegetables in my small urban yard is rewarding in it's own way. When I look back at my first garden, I see how far I've come and it motivates me to continue to push the boundaries of my knowledge and to keep challenging myself.
If it would just stop snowing!!!!