Planting plans are a great idea, but in reality much harder to implement for a small garden or intensive planting than they might initially seem.
I love the idea of a no rules garden, and adopted that philosophy when I first started my garden, relying on common sense and permaculture interplanting principles. Unfortunately I had diseases and pests on my tomatoes and beans. With limited space to develop an adhoc planting system, I turned to a rotation plan.
How to create a planting plan
There are unfortunately a great number of variables when developing a planting system:
- Simplicity — a complex planting plan is harder to implement and makes on-the-fly decision making in the garden much more difficult.
- Companion plants — beneficial companion plants, and plants that do and don’t grow well together
- Pull and plant succession planting — use of quick growing varieties to optimise growing space around slow maturing varieties, as well as allowing for succession planting for continuous harvest
- Stacking — use of vertical space and root vegetables that grow down into the soil, taking into account shading of smaller species.
- Soil health — the need to rest and replenish the soil, as well as ensuring that un-utilised beds continue to foster beneficial soil life.
- Crop rotation — rotation of crops to prevent diseases and pests, and optimise soil fertility. For example, not planting potatoes after tomatoes, and planting root vegetables after heavy feeders.
- Timing and harvesting — to optimise planting to ensure beds can be utilised directly after harvesting. This applies mostly to things like garlic, which mature well after the ideal planting time of most summer vegetables, and Brussel sprouts which require planting well before most summer vegetables are mature
- Pragmatic groupings — Although brassica grow well with most other plants, they often require netting that can exclude pollinators, and are best grown together.
It is hard to juggle all of these variables, and so compromises must be made.
You can use a spreadsheet to lay all of the variables out in a month by month matrix, or if you’re visual like me, you can sketch up a plan with key dates and then juggle and swap the elements around until you find the optimal arrangement.
The following Flexible rotation plan is above all simple and meets most of the above requirements.
5 bed rotation system
I believe that a 5 bed system is optimal, because you can have four distinct crop beds and one fallow/green manure bed.
Using a modified Guild Planting system, which keeps the planting plan simpler and easier to remember, here is my 5 bed rotation system.
Updated Plant Guilds
/\ climbing plants, or plants that grow vertically
\/ root vegetables, or plants that primarily grow down into the soil
~ sprawling or small bushy plants
plants on the same line are interchangeable, or can be planted together
\/ Root brassica: Radish, daikon, turnips, swedes
Although a fallow bed is technically not planted, nature abhors a vacuum and soil is much healthier to be covered either with mulch, hessian/cardboard or green manures.
Flexible rotation plan
As it happens, I don’t have the ideal 5 beds. I originally started with 4 annual beds, but eventually split the 5.5 metre beds into two 2.5m beds separated by a 500mm perennial raised garden bed, giving me a total of 8 beds.
This 5 bed rotation system has been developed to be flexible and can be tailored to suit smaller bed systems. Although it’s ideal to have a fallow field, this system is designed for legumes to appear frequently through out the rotation plan to help rehabilitate the soil even when a dedicated fallow bed is not possible.
- TCE => ZCP => GOBb
- TCE => ZC => CPGO => Bb
- ZC => CapEgg => CPGO => Bb => Tomatoes => Fallow (GM)
- 2x 3 bed system + 1 fallow bed between the rotations
- 2x 4 bed system