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Planning Your Crops

When faced with a vast choice of vegetables and only a small garden to plant them in, it is difficult to decide what to grow. Plan how to use your garden, and you can squeeze in an amazing variety.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

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Step 1: Grow the Right Crops

Tempted by all sorts of exotic vegetables, gardeners sometimes forget to grow what they enjoy eating. Wonderful as it is to have a fine crop of kale or kohlrabi, if you hate the taste of them, then your efforts have been wasted. On the other hand, if you struggle to find more unusual vegetables and herbs at the store, then grow what you need yourself. Crops that are simple to grow, such as runner beans and purple sprouting broccoli, are often expensive to buy, so it makes sense to grow what you would normally pay a premium for.

Step 2: Use Space Efficiently

Make the most of every patch of soil by drawing up a plan of how long each crop will be in the ground and what could be ready to plant after it. Intercropping, such as with tomatoes and lettuces, is a great way to squeeze a fast-growing crop in between slower-growing plants before they fill their allotted space. Small beds easily reached from the path can be planted in tightly packed blocks because there is no need to step on the soil. In this way, more plants fit into a given space and productivity increases.

Plant Fast Growing Lettuce Between Slower Tomatoes

Courtesy of DK - Vegetable Gardening © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Step 3: Grow Intelligently

Take account of your soil and climatic conditions before you start planting; these affect what will grow successfully, so it makes sense to work with, rather than against, them. In cold regions, it may be worth investing in a greenhouse or cold frame, or raising early and heat-loving crops on a warm windowsill or in a conservatory. To ensure a consistent supply of many vegetables, try sowing small numbers of seeds successionally every two or three weeks, so that they reach maturity over a long period.

Step 4: Rotate Crops: A Three Bed Rotation System

Vegetables can be divided into three main groups according to their needs: root vegetables, peas and beans, and brassicas. Traditionally, the members of each group are grown together and rotated, in order, around three beds. Different crops have different soil and nutrient needs, and rotating them helps to create the right environment for each type. For example, peas and beans fix nitrogen in the soil, so are followed by nutrient-hungry brassicas. Root crops need lower nitrogen levels, so do well after brassicas and break up the soil for deep-rooting peas and beans. The squash family, fruiting vegetables, and salads can be grown with any of the groups.

Why bother? (image 1)
Crop rotation is worthwhile even in a small garden because when crops are grown in the same place year after year, pests and diseases can accumulate and cause serious problems. Moving crops every year reduces the likelihood that this will occur and also helps regulate soil pH because only brassicas may need added lime.

Bed One (image 2)

  • Year one: root crops. Incorporate plenty of organic matter before planting.
  • Year two: peas and beans. Prepare soil with generous amounts of manure or compost.
  • Year three: brassicas. Lime acidic soil and dig in more well-rotted compost

Bed Two (image 3)

  • Year one: peas and beans. Improve the soil with lots of manure or compost.
  • Year two: brassicas. Add good quality-compost and lime acidic soil to control clubroot.
  • Year three: root crops. Prepare the soil by digging in more organic matter.

Bed Three (image 4)

  • Year one: brassicas. Apply compost and the correct quantity of lime to acidic soils.
  • Year two: root crops. Add more compost to keep soil in good condition.
  • Year three: peas and beans. Apply well-rotted manure to help retain moisture and add nutrients.

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Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007

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