The nights are fair drawing in, aren’t they? And it’s getting harder and harder to do anything meaningful in the veg garden. Your winter crops are ticking over nicely, and the usual end of season tidying is all done, leaves cleared up and lawn mower oiled and sitting waiting for next year. So what is a gardener to do? Plan for next year of course. Grab yourself a cuppa, a pen and paper, and make a plan of what to grow come the spring.
Stick or Twist – The Gardener’s Dilemma
Winter is a great time to reflect on the veg growing year: what went well, what didn’t? Which varieties of potatoes did best? Will you try kale again but this time keep the pigeons off the young plants?
It’s also a good time to flick through the seed catalogues and choose seeds and plants for next year. I’m a big fan of keeping veg growing as simple as possible. Self provisioning is about taking as much nutrition as you can from whatever garden space you have, so I focus on easy, reliable crops that my family loves to eat.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment though. You might just discover the perfect variety of courgette that adores your garden’s climate. I like to do a rough sketch of my plot and plan out where everything is going. That way I can compare this against what I grew last year and avoid any mistakes as well as practise crop rotation.
C’mon Baby, Do the Crop Rotation
Rotating your crops is important for a few reasons. Firstly, you prevent diseases like clubroot building up in the soil. Repeatedly growing the same crops in the same spot also depletes the soil of nutrients over time. Thirdly, some vegetables like a rich soil, others prefer lower nutrients. But how can you achieve this through mere crop rotation?
The simplest way is through the ‘3 bed’ rotation system, which means working across three beds (or a multiple e.g. 6 or 9). In the first bed, you grow roots such as carrots, beetroot, or potatoes; in the second, you grow fruit crops such as squash, beans, or peas; and in the third, you grow brassicas – think cabbage, kale, and broccoli. Then next year, you rotate everything across by one – so last year’s bed 1 now has the brassicas, bed 2 has the roots, and bed 3 has the fruit crops.
This serves a few purposes:
- You keep brassicas moving, preventing clubroot building up.
- Brassicas also like nutrient-depleted soil, so having them follow squash and then roots means the soil will be quite low in nutrients.
- You can target manure on one bed – the one with the fruits and legumes which like fertile soils.
It’s really easy to remember, so plan to give it a go next year! Draft out a plan, practise crop rotation, and go for gold for your soil, your veg, and your sense of satisfaction when you are harvesting fresh crops next season.
Neil M. White lives in Perthshire with his wife and three children. He has worked in horticulture as a landscape gardener and in a tree nursery. Now a ‘hobby’ gardener, he spends most of his time growing fruit or veg. Juggling gardening, family life, and a day job, Neil also finds time to write – his latest book on gardening ‘The Self Provisioner’ was published in April 2020. Catch up with Neil on his Twitter feed.