Let’s get this planting started…

Last time, I described the building of our new, cedar plank raised beds. Once they were full of our lovely new soil, I initially left them alone for about 3 weeks, as a weed test. Happily, nothing untoward popped out. 

We have a bore on the property rather than a water tank, so I also bought a bore water testing kit online (about $70) to make sure I wasn’t about to pour salty/heavy chemical/non pH neutral water all over my lovely fresh organic-ish soil. The bore passed with flying colours. Well; muted, test stick colours actually:

 test kit small

So then the planting started! I knew that even with quite large raised beds, it isn’t a huge space overall, and I have ambitious plans for my vegetable output! So the most important thing I wanted to plan out first was crop rotation.

The idea behind this is that different families of veggies have differing nutritative requirements, and suffer different pests and diseases. To avoid building up colonies of pests, viruses, fungi or bacteria in a particular area, you ensure you plant from each of the half dozen or so main families of plants we like to eat, in a particular location for a whole season, and then plant that family somewhere else for the next 3 – 5 years.

Without crop rotation, you’re more likely to need to use non organic pesticides & fungicides. This is because as the soil becomes depleted in essential nutrients, plants become increasingly more stressed, and a stressed plant, like a stressed person, is more susceptible to sickness. I want to garden organically, so crop rotation is critical.

The families I’m interested in are:

  • Brassicas aka Cruciferae: cabbage, turnip, beets*, bok & pak choi, mizuna and radishes, salad greens
  • Umbrelliferae: carrots and parsnips
  • Legumes: dwarf beans, peas, broad beans
  • Aliums: garlic, leeks, onions
  • Solanaceae: tomatoes, peppers, chillies, aubergines

There are plenty more plants in the families above; I’ve just listed the ones I wanted to grow. There are other families too, such as the cucurbits (squashes/cucumbers/courgettes); but I only wanted to plant one or two of those dotted around the garden so I didn’t include them in my raised bed planning. *Strictly speaking beetroot is from another family but my beet seed packets called them brassicas so I popped them in that group for my planning. What the heck! Rules are there to be sidestepped!

Once I knew how many families to factor in, it was just a question of splitting the available space into 4 (the allium group I intended to grow in all parts of the raised beds at once; because they are good companion plants (of which, more later)). I knew I wanted to grow lots of tomatoes and aubergines so I gave them the biggest space. Next up were the brassicas in terms of size allocation, and then legumes and carrots/parsnips. This may mean I have a smaller space in coming years for my favourites, the tomatoes, but I can always have a go at intensively rearing them – basically squishing them closer and fertilising more often. I’ll work something out!

Another thing to bear in mind about rotation from year 2 onward; some families of veg will perform better if they follow another family (eg leafy salad crops like lots of nitrogen, and legumes produce lots in the soil, so it makes sense to follow legumes with salad the year after). As this is my first season, I don’t need to worry about that just yet.

So, does this all make it just too much like hard work? Nah. The great thing is, you only have to plan this out once, at the beginning, to get the benefits. And anyway, this is a counsel of perfection – who’s to say it won’t work just fine if you just plonk your seeds in wherever you like. After all, this has been mother nature’s gambit for quite a while now!

This is just one way to rotate crops – there are other methods, for instance, based on the types of plants rather than just the families (root veg, leafy veg, fruits and legumes where for example root veg need less nitrogen so best not to follow immediately after legumes)  but it made the most sense to me and my little space. I probably won’t see any real benefits this year but I’m hoping this is a solid base for my future gardening!

Garden 2 – The Veggie Beds*

[* To be uttered in Dramatic Cinema Trailer Announcer Style]

Back home, I’d had a small piece of a shared garden to grow my plants in, and I got quite adept at squeezing in lots of different things in a small space. Choosing the right plants for the space and, for veggies, crop rotation is key. So I knew I could grow lots in my new little back yard. Top of my list was a nice big veggie bed.

Our main issue with the garden is that about a quarter of it is covered in a large concrete slab. (See the ‘sad neglected garden’ photo here). I guess there had been a garage there at some point. Now there was a meaningless L shaped wall, a small shed, and not a whole lot else. Quotes told us it would be ridiculously expensive to remove the concrete, so we decided to embrace the damn thing and put raised beds on top of it instead.

Step one was to get the pointless wall knocked down:wall cropped2

This left us with a nice clear area about 6 x 7 metres.

The soil in our yard is a poor, sandy rubbishy thing. Below a foot or so, it’s actually ash grey, and unhealthy looking. It won’t hold water and it doesn’t look as if it could support weedy grass, let alone lovely plump, yummy veggies. As we were starting afresh on the concrete, it seemed sensible to buy in some good organic soil. Continue reading