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Archive for January, 2015

Winter Food Crop Rotation-- croppedIn January 2013 I wrote about what I do to have winter carrots. I begin in the fall of the previous year and plant rye in rows in my future carrot bed. The rye crop is allowed to mature all the way to seed, which around here in zone 7 is mid-June. When it is cut, the harvest is seed and straw. I lightly hoe between the rows of stubble and plant carrots. I keep this bed well watered to get the carrots off to a good start and replant if there are spots lacking good germination. Once everything is growing well the only attention is to weed periodically. The stubble decomposes, gently feeding back the soil for the carrots.

With this post I thought I would show the carrots in a three bed rotation plan that provides greens and carrots for my household through the fall and winter months, while feeding back the soil with cover crops. If you have trouble reading the text on the garden map, click on it and it will open up in a new window, as will all my photos. I grow all of my compost and mulch materials in order to avoid bringing damaging materials into my garden. In the photo you can see the skeleton of this plan. The carrots and kale and collards take up 43% of the space for the year in the total of the three beds. There are 12 bed crop months in each bed for a total of 36 bed crop months. The carrots and greens use 15.5 bed crop months, or 43%. When I plan cover crops I like to have 60% of the bed crop months in the garden in soil building crops. That would mean that the rest of the space in the three beds would need to be devoted to cover crops, plus I need to have some extra in the rest of the garden to make up for the shortage here. The winter rye that is already part of the rotation is a cover crop.

Rye planted in rows in preparation for carrots to be planted into the stubble the following June.

Rye planted in rows in preparation for carrots to be planted into the stubble the following June.

The map you see is for the calendar year, showing the crops that are already in each bed at the beginning of the year. The green areas in the plan show when each bed is available for crops beyond the carrots and greens winter food plan. There is a lot of flexibility here. First I will give suggestions for filling those areas with cover crops. Bed 1 is already filled all twelve months, so look at Bed 2. You will harvest carrots from the fall until you have pulled them all or the weather warms in March and they start sending up a seed stalk. If you still have some then, pull them and store them in plastic bags in the fridge and you can have carrots for weeks in your kitchen. If you want to save seed, leave some of the carrots in the garden to go to seed. That might take until July so you may want to have those on one side of the bed, leaving the rest of the bed for something else. Only save from one variety to avoid crossing. My plan shows the carrots are there until March 1. That could vary and they could be there until they show signs of bolting. For a soil building crop you could plant fava beans or field peas. Favas and field pea plants can be harvested as green biomass for the compost pile when they reach full flower. In my area the blooms of fava beans tend to fall off when the weather gets hot, making it hard to save seed anyway. If you take them while blooming, you could follow with another legume, such as cowpeas or soybeans for biomass. Buckwheat can be planted anytime in there to keep the bed planted and to attract beneficial insects. The goal is to have the bed free by the middle of August for the kale and collard transplants that will overwinter. It helps to put a low tunnel on this bed then. It provides a frame for shade cloth at transplanting that is replaced by a plastic cover when the weather warrants. This low tunnel can be moved from one bed to the other to follow the brassicas crop.

Greens and roots for winter food.

Greens and roots for winter food.

In Bed 3 you can see that it begins the calendar year with kale and collards already there, left from last year’s planting. That group of crops (carrots early and kale/collards late) were planted in Bed 3 the previous year as you can see by the rotation arrows, leaving the kale/collards there to overwinter. If the harvest is for greens only, the bed will be ready for the next crop in mid-March. If you intend to save seeds from either kale or collards, those plants will be in the bed until June. Favas or field peas are an option for this bed, but so is spring wheat. That could be followed by cowpeas (or another legume), then buckwheat before it is time to plant the winter rye. In my area rye can go in anytime in October. Plant the rye in rows as to make the carrot planting easier. You can see by the rotation arrows that the crops in Bed 1 will rotate to Bed 3 in the next year and conveniently, the rye will be there, right on schedule.

If you have plenty of compost materials from the other beds in your garden you might prefer to plant crops for eating in those green spaces on the map. In that case, salad crops such as sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach, and bunching onions could be planted after the carrots or kale and collards. Those crops could be followed by snap beans. Bed 2 needs to be open by mid-August, but you have into the fall in Bed 3 leaving the possibility of planting sweet potatoes in late May/early June after the salad crops. Winter squash is a possibility in Bed 3 and you can use the rye straw harvested from Bed 1 as mulch. Potatoes followed by snap beans could happen in either bed.

Of course, the timing of these crops depends on your location. If you enjoy going to the farmers market for fresh vegetables or belong to a summer CSA, but also like to garden, you may want to consider this winter food plan. It might do well for those of you who like to travel in the summer, as long as you are around for the key planting times. You will find other garden maps and plans in my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. Once you learn how to plan for the whole year, the possibilities are endless.

I will be talking about all of this on Saturday, January 31, 2015 in the presentation that Ira Wallace, of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and I are giving at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in Richmond, VA. Come and see us!Homeplace Earth

 

 

 

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Seed Swap table at the VA Biological Farming Conference.

Seed Swap table at VA Biological Farming Conference.

The terms Seedy Saturday and Seedy Sunday were not in my vocabulary until I was doing research for Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People. Seedy Saturday usually referred to an event in Canada and Seedy Sunday usually referred to an event in the United Kingdom, but not always. Seedy Saturdays, Sundays, or any day actually, are events that celebrate seeds. Seed sharing occurs there through vendors selling their seeds or individuals offering them for trade or give-away. You might also find presentations about seeds and gardening from people in the know, and maybe food for sale and music to enjoy.

The first Seedy Saturday occurred in Canada in 1990. It was a day of speakers and vendors. Sharon Rempel came up with the idea and was helped by her friends Roy Forster, Cathrine Gabriel, and Dan Jason. The goal of that day was to get the heritage varieties of seeds grown by home gardeners trialed and evaluated regionally, and a core collection of regionally adapted vegetables, fruits, and grains conserved and exchanged annually. Agronomists from the University of British Columbia were among those at the event. Seeds of Diversity Canada maintains a list of current seed sharing events here. You can find information about such events in the UK at www.seedysunday.org.

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Guidelines for how many seeds to take.

With additional events scheduled besides seed sharing, Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays in Canada and the UK are more than just seed swaps. It is likely that you may find very small seed companies there, as well as large well-known ones. Each seed event is operated a little differently. What I am most familiar with are seed swaps that are part of a larger event where seeds are not the main topic. I have participated in seed swaps when I have attended the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, the Virginia Biological Farming Conference, and the Mother Earth News Fairs around the country. These swaps are sponsored by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE). At the Mother Earth News Fairs, additional sponsors may be High Mowing Seeds, Organic Seed Alliance, and Seed Savers Exchange. A table is set up, covered with a nice cloth, and seeds and supplies are set out. It begins with seeds that SESE has to share, but is open to seeds anyone else wants to offer for free. Conference and Fair goers can help themselves, within limits, of course, without contributing seeds of their own. There is a list of guidelines to help you decide how many to take. Here in the U.S. the last Saturday in January is designated as National Seed Swap Day. You can find a list of seed swaps around the country here. If your seed swap is not on the list, consider having it added so others in your area can find you.

Seeds are foremost in the minds of gardeners in January. The seed catalogs have been arriving for weeks and you have begun to make up your list of things you want to order. However, you need to know what you already have before you order more seeds, or acquire them in a seed swap, so take an inventory. In my book Grow a Sustainable Diet there is a link to worksheets, one of them for a seed inventory. That form is also on the companion CD that comes with my Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan DVD. I designed it with columns for information I like to refer to, but actually, you can make an inventory by writing down on notebook paper what seeds you have on hand and how much of each variety. I did it that way for many years.

Joseph Lofthouse sharing his seeds at Seed School.

Joseph Lofthouse sharing his seeds at Seed School.

When you inventory your seeds you may find that you have too much of something or that you have seeds for things you will never get around to planting. If you have some of these extra seeds, check their germination rate, particularly if they are a few years old. If they are still viable, you have something to share and you could pass them on to someone else at a seed swap. Here in the U.S. we have opportunities to share seeds all year long through seed libraries, without waiting to attend a seed swap. Seed swaps, by the way, don’t have to be once a year events. They can be scheduled as often as you can find people who are interested in coming.

Whether you are planning on participating in a seed swap or a seed library, you will find great information to help with those activities in my upcoming book Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People.  If there are no seed swaps or seed libraries in your neighborhood, consider starting one. You could get together with friends to share seeds and grow your event from there. The more we share our seeds with others, the more we are ensuring that they will stay a part of our community food systems. Like love, the more you give it away, the more it comes back to you.Homeplace Earth

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