GROW YOUR OWN #1: CROP PLANNING
This month, we launched the 2024 'Grow Your Own' series with a workshop on Crop Planning led by Global Gardens Project Coordinator Poppy.
Crop planning can help us organise the growing year and plan what seeds to sow, how many and when.
The workshop begun with an introduction to some of the main vegetable families. Getting to know plant families can help build an understanding of plant needs and habits.
We explored how these 'families' emerged through observation and categorisation according to flower-type . This is referred to as a Linnean system of classification. For example, all of the Brassica families have flowers consisting of four petals in the form of a cross - hence why they are also known as 'crucifers'. All of the umbellifers have an open, disc-shaped 'umbel' consisting of many flowers on short stems. All Legumes meanwhile have 5 petals forming a distinctive 'banner, wings, and keel'. So to get to know your veg families, start with looking at their flowers!
Brassicas: include all of the cabbage-y kinds of crops (ranging from Kale, to Cauliflower, Cabbage, Sprouts, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, as well as Kohlrabi, Swede and Turnip).
Solanaceae: otherwise known as the nightshade family include Tomatoes, Chillies, Peppers, Aubergines and Potatoes.
Fabaceae: include Beans (Broad beans, French climbing beans, Dwarf French beans, Field beans), Peas (Garden peas and Sugarsnap) and Lentils.
Cucurbits: include Squash, Courgette, Cucumber,m Pumpkin, Cucamelon and Melons
Alliums: include all of the onion-y crops ranging from Garlic to Spring onion, Onion, Leeks, Chives and Shallots.
Umbellifers: include Carrots, Parsnips, Dill, Fennel, Celery, Celeriac.
Chenopodiaceae: include Spinach, Chard, Beetroot and Amaranth.
After exploring the families of veg, we considered why it might be helpful to grow and rotate in blocks according to veg family - otherwise known as a rotation. Reasons identified included:
-Fertility requirements: some crops are hungrier than others.
-Promotion of crop health and minimise pest and disease transfer: rotating can reduce pest and disease build up. For example, club root disease is a soil-borne disease that can stay within soils for up to 100 years!
-Efficient use of space.
Poppy then shared some 'top tips' for crop planning...
Top tips for crop planning
Start with the area you are planning to cultivate.
Identify what crops you would like to grow.
Consider how much of each crop would you like to grow? Group the crops into families.
Measure up your growing space. Don’t forget pathways if necessary!
Plan when to sow each crop and when it will be harvested.
Incorporate green manure if possible to reduce bare soil and build soil fertility.
Five year rotation
Poppy introduced a basic 5-year rotation.
Yr 1: Potatoes
Yr 2: Brassicas
Yr 3: Alliums
Yr 4: Roots & friends (including legumes)
Yr 5: Green manure
Potatoes can be useful as a first crop - breaking up soil and reducing the weed burden, They can then be followed by Brassicas in the second year which are relatively hungry and appreciate the reduced weed burden. Alliums can then follow in year three, followed by Roots in year four and finally a green manure in year five, before returning to potatoes in year six.
Green manures can also be really useful crops to incorporate into your rotation. They can serve a number of purposes:
Root nodules which can fix nitrogen from the air.
Lift nutrients from the soil.
Organic matter accumulators
Support a healthy soil microbiome and build organic matter.
Protect the soil from nutrient leaching and erosion as well as reducing weed burden. Root systems promote a healthy soil microbiome. Aim to avoid bare soil at all costs.
Promote beneficial predatory insects - such as parasitic wasps, lacewings and hoverflies.
Can add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. Also prevents nutrient leach in the winter.
Examples of under sowing:
-Phacelia with broad beans/field beans
-Yellow trefoil with tomatoes/melons/cucumbers/aubergines
-Crimson clover with runner beans/sweetcorn
-Overwintering winter rye and vetch
-Overwintering Green in the Snow
There is no hard and fast rule to rotation. Indeed, many indigenous systems demonstrate how we crops can be successfully grown outside of a rotation. For example the Native American 'three sisters' approach which grows maize, squash and beans together or the Shumei Natural Agriculture approach which grows crops in the same area every year. We encourage you to think about what works for your growing space and kitchen needs. But having a crop plan can help with organising seed sowing and transplanting timings whilst also minimising bare soil as much as possible.
This session was supported by The National Lottery Community Fund in Wales. The aim of these sessions is to build community-based skills in agroecological approaches to food growing. To find out about forthcoming GYO sessions, check out our eventbrite page.