March 18, 1997

Here it is, mid-March already. You're all itching to get at the garden by this point; your appetites have been whetted by those seductive seed catalogs. You've probably even received your seed orders by now, and are just waiting for the ground to thaw (or, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you're waiting for the ground to dry out!). Right now, the last thing on your minds is more pre-gardening activity. I would like, however, to make a case for doing some garden planning before you get your hands dirty.

There are two main reasons for making a garden plan: To maintain a rotation of plant families, and to use your garden space more effectively.

Some people think crop rotations are mainly used to balance out the different nutritional requirements of various crops. This is more applicable to farmers growing lower-demand field crops, however. Rotations in the vegetable garden are more useful for disease prevention, and to keep pests under control. Your basic rotation should move families of plants together. Some important families include Solanaceae (the nightshade family, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant), Brassicaceae (crucifers such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cress, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radishes, rutabaga, and turnips), Fabaceae (legumes, including peas and beans), Cucurbitaceae (gourds, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash), and Poaceae (the grains, of which only corn is common in the vegetable garden). For the sake of convenience, I lump my salad greens in with the legumes in my personal five-year rotation scheme. You can decide what works best for you; even a two-year rotation will help immensely. Keep in mind that this is a preventative measure: If a disease is already in your soil, crop rotations are not likely to cure it.

A good garden plan can also help you make better use of your available space. Many people "put in" their garden all at once, during a sunny late-spring weekend. If you live in a short-season area, this might be necessary; but many people can stretch out their garden productivity with a little forethought. An early bed of peas, for example, will be done by June; and would make a great spot for fall lettuce. Spring spinach can be followed up by fall broccoli or turnips. Spring broccoli can precede overwintered garlic. One caveat: If your locality has problems with a specific pest, take that into consideration as well. For example, my area (western Washington state) is the cabbage maggot capital of the world. If I were to follow my spring broccoli by another crucifer (such as radishes or kale), the results would be disappointing, since the pests would already be ready and waiting (and hungry!). What works for you will depend on where you live; the key is simply to think about how plants grow in your personal garden, and go from there!

All contents © Travis Saling
This page was last updated November 18, 2013