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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


Winter Food Crop Rotation

My family enjoys carrots and greens from the garden all winter. I will show you a 3-bed garden plan that can guide you to the same results. The picture shows Beds 1-3 with the arrows indicating where the crops in each bed rotate to the next year. You can see that the crops in Bed 1, rye and carrots, rotate to Bed 3 the next year, while the crops indicated in Bed 3 one year are grown in Bed 2 the next, as so on. Having a garden map showing all the beds in your garden and what is planted in them is the most basic of garden records you should keep. You will find more about this 3-bed plan at Homeplace Earth.

The secret to the carrots is to get them started early enough to be mature by mid-October or earlier. I want the soil to be well fed naturally and find that planting cereal rye, often called winter rye, the previous fall works well. I make a note on my garden map to plant the rye in this bed in rows, rather than broadcasting it. The rye puts a tremendous amount of biomass in the soil with its roots, adding to the organic matter. The time to harvest is when it has finished its life cycle and produced grain and straw, giving you seeds to eat or plant back and straw for mulch or compost material. At that point it can be cut close to the ground leaving the stubble, which is in rows if I remembered to do that. I lightly hoe between the rows of stubble and plant the carrot seed. I have to take care to make sure that bed is watered to get things off to a good start, but I don’t have trouble with rye inhibiting the germination. You sometimes hear not to plant small seeded crops after rye because of that, but I believe that is referring to when rye is tilled in green in the spring. Planting into the stubble in June is entirely different.

Winter greens — kale and collards — are transplanted in mid-August in the bed the carrots were harvested from in the spring. That means that I need to plant the kale and collard seeds in early July so that I will have good transplants. I start all my seeds in my coldframes or other containers outside, rather than planting in flats inside, keeping my coldframes is use all year. As soon as something comes out, something else goes in.

The winter greens will be out in the spring in the bed that the rye will be planted in (in rows) in the fall. The green areas on the map are left to your discretion. If you want to plant soil building cover crops there (good choice) you could first plant fava beans or field peas in early spring, followed by other legumes or buckwheat during the summer months until time to plant kale and collards or rye. You could also plant spring wheat there, followed by a legume.

If you have a good source of soil nutrients to bring in for replenishment rather than using cover crops, you could fill the beds with crops for eating, such as sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach, and bunching onions early and any number of summer crops once the soil warmed. A low tunnel over the kale/collard bed would give protection to other spring crops once the kale and collards are out. In Bed 3 you have time to plant winter squash or sweet potatoes and mulch them with straw from the rye harvest.

Now is the time to be planning your garden for the whole year. I hope you put some of these ideas into your plan so you have carrots and greens from your garden next winter.

Cindy Conner has produced DVDs about cover crops and garden planning and is the author of Grow a Sustainable Diet and Seed Libraries. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.


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