January 13, 2016

Planning an Organic Garden

We are gardeners since the summer of 2013. That year the Englishman had the ingeniuos idea to gift me my very own 300m² allotment for my birthday and I have spent most of my weekends out in the mud ever since.

In the early years, however, gardening was more like an experimental hobby than a real contribution to our pantry. The site was very cluttered, had a fallen down greenhouse on it and tons of weed growing everywhere when we first took it on. We didn't really grow things then, we merely plonked gifted and donated cuttings and seedlings wherever we could find space, watered regularly and hoped for the best. The year after we started of with a plan, but then went travelling over the summer and came back to a jungle. Last year we decided deliberatly to put all our efforts into re-building the derailed greenhouse and only had some strawberries and lettuce going.

However, with the greenhouse almost finished and most of the site clutter free we are aiming this year to grow some real crops. Our short term goal is to establish an organic garden that requires minimal maintenance and offers maximum yields in the future. Long term I would like our allotment to make a real contribution to our weekly food shop, ideally with an extended growing period from early spring to mid winter. Since the allotment is a short drive from our home, I would also like to minimalise the effort of maintaining it. All in all I am hoping for a reliable, organic food source with the added fun of getting out into the weather and mud for it.

After some research into organic gardening I decided that establishing a crop rotation would be a good first step. Rotating crops is an efficient way to keep the soil healthy while providing the different crops with the growing requirements that are best for them. There are 5 growing groups altogether and each year the groups are moved on to the next plot, four years marking the full circle.

The basic rules are:
Plot 1 is for legumes such as peas, green and broad beans.
Plot 2 is for the brassicas such as broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts etc.
Plot 3 is plants from the onion family like garlic and also for zucchini, squash, pumpkins and lettuce.
Plot 4 is for root vegetables such as carrots, parsnip and potatoes.
Plot 5 is for permanent crops in our case perennial herbs like sage, thyme and rosemary.

To have a better idea of where to grow what I created a plan with coloured pencils and watercolour of our allotment. Most of the plots as well as the walk ways already exist. Only the two bottom plots still need weeding, digging and marking off. The plots used for the crop rotation are marked as 1,2,3 and 4. The permanent herbs are already in the ground and will stay in the plots nearer to the greenhouse. The pink plot is where the strawberries are which are not included in the rotation. I want to try and grow spinach alongside it though, as I read that they make great companions. The opposite green plot is reserved for potatoes. Normally potatoes would grow with other root vegetables in plot 4, however this year we would like to plant them in a no-dig bed of heaped manure which requires a lot of space.

Apart from the benefits of a healthier ground and yields throughout the year, I also really enjoy the simple yet systematic approach of the crop rotation plan. I cannot wait for our garden to unfold this year. Especially once the greenhouse is fully functional and we get to grow tomatoes too.

Do you grow organically? What does that look like in your garden?

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