During these rainy, damp months, when the garden is looking pretty ragged, it's a bit too warm to ski, and I'm not feeling uber excited about being on my bike, I like to curl up under a quilt with my laptop and a cup of tea and plan the spring's garden layout. This is our second year planting veggies in the raised beds, and we're planning on rotating crops this year. Crop rotation has a number of benefits for backyard gardeners. It is easier to stick with organic methods, because pests have a hard time following rotating crops from season to season, and it allows you to balance out the nutrient load from year to year, as different plants deplete and add nutrients to the soil.
There are many, many MANY methods for crop rotation out there, and though I've tried to map a handful of them on paper, I find it quite confusing and tedious to track what should be planted where in order to maximize a rotation scheme. I spent a little time searching for a good crop rotation app on the internets, and I came across GrowVeg.Com. I signed up for the free trial and was immediately hooked. The interface looks like this:
The background is scaled so you can draw precise widths for your beds. Clicking on a plant icon, across the top of the screen, reveals information about each plant- its family, what type of soil and moisture it prefers, etc. You can drag each plant from the plant bar and place it in the bed, then expand the square to match the size of the patch you're planting. The software automatically calculates how many plants will fit into the area indicated, automating space planning.
This software also manages the intricacies of crop rotation by keeping a memory of what was planted in years prior. My 2012 plan, which was built off of my 2011 plan, has a memory of where 2011 plants were planted. If I attempt to place plants in an area where they were in previous years, the areas blink red:
So easy. This completely takes the headache out of rotation planning by tracking that information automatically.
To aid in plant purchasing and planting, the software creates a nifty planting list:
Included on the list are the quantity of plants needed given your garden space, and the time of year to seed, plant outside, and harvest (indicated by blue, black and red). This takes so much work out of the purchasing / space planning elements of gardening. There are even links to buy seed, right in the checklist (though I've not used this feature). In addition to these tools, the application also has good video tutorials, and includes a number of additional services including email planting reminders, an informative and timely blog; and growing guides for a number of crops, written by expert gardeners. The Growveg application costs $25 annually, which put me off at first- but in the end I paid the money and I'm glad I did. Garden planning has been easier this year and I've done it way earlier (past years have found me with seed packets scattered about over a bed, scribbling a messy chart furiously on a scrap piece of paper, trying to get everything in the ground before dark or before it starts to rain. Sheesh. This is WAY less stressful).
Through using this planner, I've arrived at the conclusion that four beds is not going to cut it for my gardening needs this year. I'm expanding to six beds of annuals, which break down as follows: Brassicas will fill bed 1; carrots/ parsnips/ chard/ lettuces go in bed 2. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will fill bed 3. These guys could be paired with cukes, zukes, squash and melon (czsms) , as all have the same nutrient needs; however, all of these plants require quite a bit of space, so the czsms will go in bed 5. Bed 3 will contain peas, legumes, garlic, and onions. These all go together because onions and garlic tuck in nicely around the edges of the climbers, and nutrient needs are not conflicting. Finally, bed 6 is going to be all cutting flowers (so excited about this !!!!). I've always wanted to do this, but found further justification for planting flowers when I read that they fix nitrogen to prepare the soil for some of the bigger intake fruiting plants (so they are a great thing to plant before rotating czsms into the bed).
This is the first year I've felt prepared for planting this early, which is quite a lovely feeling. I'm really excited to see if I can build the physical garden that is laid out so nicely in this plan!