Gardening Blog – Time to Plan


Today would have been a perfect day to be on the allotment – the first blue sky and sun we’ve seen for a while. Instead, feeling the need for as much light as possible, we walked along the river and had a double dose – from the sky and reflected back from the water. There are plenty of jobs to get on with at this time of year but the allotment can cope without me for one weekend.  Parsnips and leeks are waiting to be lifted so I wont stay away for long.  In a few months time we’ll have forgotten such a relaxed approach was ever possible!

This is a good time to decide where the 2016 crops will grow. The tried and tested method is to plan for a rotation of crops. As a reminder for anyone starting on a new plot, or perhaps if you’re growing vegetables for the first time, the RHS has some good advice about it:

For those of us growing on a plot we’ve used before, the important thing to remember is what and where we planted last year. It’s a good idea to write everything down at the planning stage – that’s now – rather than assuming that we’ll remember this time next year.

Is crop rotation essential? Most of us think so, but I wrote an article recently about a Japanese farmer who wouldn’t agree. The Shumei method of agriculture doesn’t use crop rotation. Nor does it feed the soil in any way – organic or non-organic. Gardeners I’ve spoken to about the method are baffled. Traditionally, we rotate crops to keep a balance of nutrients in the soil and to avoid disease. I was equally doubtful until I visited the Shumei demonstration farm in Wiltshire to do some research. Now I’m prepared to be more open minded.

A very simplified version of the Shumei argument is that the soil doesn’t need our interference. If strong, healthy seeds (not hybrids) are planted in the same piece of unfertilised soil every year, a relationship gradually builds up between the seed, the plants and the soil. Year by year the plants become healthier and the yields improve.

The farm has been going for 5 years now. When it started, visiting organic farmers predicted crop failures within 3 years. That just hasn’t happened. I was impressed, both by the health of the plants and the quality of the vegetables I tasted there. Am I brave enough to try it for myself? Perhaps I will. If you are curious to test the results, the farm has Open Days during the summer months.

Tips from the allotment:

  • Prune autumn raspberries to ground level
  • Dig out the compost heap
  • Dig a bean trench and put in any unrotted compost
  • Mulch asparagus and blackcurrant bushes
  • Deal with annual weeds by turning the soil with a spade and burying them
  • Remove perennial weeds such as dandelions and buttercups