Fresh digs

Most garden guides will tell you it's a good idea to rotate your vegetable crops.

There are valid reasons for this. Different crops require different nutrients from the soil.

Some, much like the dogs, like freshly composted soil (although the dogs' priority is the sniff factor rather than the nutrient value) while others prefer well-matured soil nutrients - I won't be digging the fresh compost from my bins into the part of the garden I'm planning on planting root crops in, for example.

Also, growing one crop continuously in the same soil increases the chance of pests and diseases that affect that crop flourishing as they have fresh fodder year after year.

There are obvious exceptions - perennial plants like rhubarb and asparagus always stay in the same place.

Every gardening book recommends a slightly different combination of vegetables for your rotation - very broadly speaking, plants tend to be grouped into root crops; brassicas and green leafy veges; above-ground croppers like tomatoes; and legumes - plants like beans and peas that are nitrogen fixers.

You can get extremely organised with crop rotation and draw out plans each year. We did this for a couple of years but now we just naturally plant that way. While the most frequently suggested crop rotation is a four-year cycle, you have to work with what suits your garden. We have three large garden beds, so we do a three-year rotation.

In our garden, potatoes generally take a large part of one bed, with space left for corn.

Another bed will have space for fast-growing Asian and salad greens - I include radishes here as they take such a short time to mature over summer.

The remainder of this bed will have space for cucurbits like cucumbers and courgettes and also any tomatoes there's no space for in the tunnel house. The third bed has onions, garlic and root vegetables.

Next year the onions, garlic and root vegetables will be grown where the cucurbits and green leafy veges are now, the potatoes will replace the root vegetables and the green leafy stuff will go where the spuds are.

It might sound confusing but it becomes routine. Our soil is heavy and compacts easily, so I dig a lot of rough compost and manure in when preparing potato beds - the soil is lovely when the spuds come out in autumn. Peas and beans can go in then, adding nitrogen to the soil in preparation for my greens over summer.

My garden also has other things going on; chillies, capsicums and eggplants don't like our heavy garden soil so I plant them in a small garden to one side of the house with sandy soil. While I do plant them there every year so far there haven't been problems. Pumpkin plants go in the orchard mulch.

Stubborn plants also hold their ground; rat-tail radishes have self-seeded in the same spot in the garden each year so I've just let them go for it; the same with miners lettuce over winter.

To complicate things, I can't plant seeds or small seedlings in our garden without some form of bird protection, so within my green leafy plot, I make successive sowings of the plants I use a lot, in small plots that can be covered with portable netted frames.

I keep the rows short and sow about six different varieties. This not only thwarts birds, but also resolves the issue of planting a long row of say, lettuces or radishes, then having half them go to seed before you use them.

For longer-term crops that "hold" in the soil like carrots and parsnips, I sow longer rows and protect them with bird netting draped over metal hoops.

You'd think that with two large canines, birds might not be my biggest garden pest issue, but aside from the odd bone-burying indiscretion, the only time the dogs venture onto the vege garden is in pursuit of a stray tennis ball. On those occasions, it's amazing how delicately a 40ish kilogram dog can tiptoe when trying to avoid the wrath of their alpha female.


A few of the plants garden guides recommend: lettuce, radish and other salad greens, carrot, peas, climbing and dwarf beans, celery, spring onions and beetroot.

Plant tomato, eggplant, pepper, chilli, courgette, cucumber and pumpkin seeds in trays.

Try something different: there are dozens of tomatoes other than moneymaker or cherry tomatoes – pick up a packet of seed from your garden centre.

The Marlborough Express