It's true! My brother-in-law, David, has always done that. And I've been more than happy not to have to be the decider! Our seed work entails enough decision-making!
David, is the primary architect of our family's garden plan. And he's the keeper of the maps. Much gratitude to him! I’ve been working on detailing those garden maps from his notes to show you how he decides what to plant where in our family garden.
Simply put, having a system makes it so much easier. We all love examples! So I thought I’d share this with you, keeping it simple-- cuz we humans like to complicate things!
This system solves the dilemma of having to rethink your garden every year-- making sure you aren’t planting the same type of crop in the same place as last year or the year before. We all want to avoid disease and pests.
One of the primary principles of our deep mulch garden system is-- we don’t remove last year’s plant material from the garden. If you do, you’re removing fertility too. That said, it makes a good rotation that much more important.
Some garden background to set the stage
In the spring after the winter snow, ice and wind have done their work—freezing, thawing, flattening, shredding—and when the garden has dried out enough, we use a DR mower to just mow down whatever is left standing, including corn stalks. This allows us to leave all that plant material—think fertility-- in place.
There are a few exceptions to the ‘do not remove’ rule! We DO pull the kale stalks and woody pepper plants and put those in the compost pile. They can be a tripping hazard and they’re very unpleasant to kneel on! And the broccoli stalks? The broccoli plants went to the chickens when we finished harvesting last summer. So they’re already gone.
The deep mulch system means the rows are static and in the same place as they were last year—which makes it simple to know exactly where everything was planted. But even if you till your garden you can still manage it in much the same way.
We have two gardens— we’re blessed with a lot of garden space. The family’s East Garden has 27 inside rows. It’s surrounded by a fence, which is host to a myriad of vining crops like peas, hyacinth vine, Scarlet Runner vine, and other pole beans.
The South Garden has 15 rows plus a strawberry bed and some semi-permanent rows that host some perennial and self-seeding crops like cilantro and orach. It’s also surrounded by a fence but this one’s covered with grape vines.
Our method of rotating crops in the garden
So here’s our simple method for rotating our garden crops in our deep mulch gardens. First click on the maps below; they're downloadable, printable PDFs, so you can follow along. Let's start with the East Garden.
The garden rows are divided into sets of 2 and 3 rows. Those ‘row sets’ move as one from year to year. For example, in 2020 rows 1, 2 and 3 were planted to tomatoes. In 2021 that set of 3 tomato rows moved together to rows 4, 5, and 6. In the previous year those rows were planted to sweet corn and beets.
We plan our rotation so that the corn stalks aren’t a problem. How? First, the mowing process reduces the corn stalk to just a few inches high. Then we utilize transplanted crops, like tomatoes, where last year’s corn stood. We plant the tomato plants on the south side of the corn row—offset just enough to avoid the stalks and roots.
(These maps are clickable, downloadable, and printable PDFs.)
As you look at the maps, in 2021 the corn and beets are planted where the onions were in 2020. The onions are planted where the carrots and cucumbers grew. Another set of tomato rows is planted where the cabbage and kale were in 2020. The cabbage and kale gets transplanted into last year’s second set of corn rows, using the same offsetting method as with the tomatoes. The sweet corn moves over to occupy what was previously herbs and hot peppers. Those take over the flower and potato rows. And the peas and beans go from rows 25, 26, and 27 in 2020 to the top of the queue in 2021—rows 1, 2, and 3—completing the circle.
Now let's tour the South Garden
The South Garden has a similar system with a couple of exceptions. There are two sets of rows that are permanent and semi-permanent. The west side of the garden is home to our strawberry bed—that’s the permanent section. The east side hosts some perennial garlic greens and self-seeding crops, orach and cilantro.
(These maps are clickable, downloadable, and printable PDFs.)
The middle section—rows 4-15 are the ones that get rotated in a fashion similar to the East Garden. In 2020 rows 4 and 5 were planted to tomatoes and lettuce. In 2021 those two rows migrate west to rows 6 and 7, where the bell peppers grew in 2020. The peppers move to where the garlic and carrots grew the previous year—rows 8 and 9. The garlic in rows 10 and 11 was planted in October 2020, after the lettuce had been harvested. The carrots were direct seeded into the other half of those rows in the spring of 2021. Lettuce transplants go into rows 12 and 13-- what was 2020's broccoli rows, while the broccoli moved into the last year’s sweet corn rows-- rows 14 and 15. And the sweet corn rotated to the start of the queue—back to rows 4 and 5.
One thing I want to mention is that when we have a split row-- meaning two crops are planted in the same row, we treat the transition space between them as an opportunity. These are great spaces to plug in flowers or herb plants to increase the plant diversity. This provides a welcoming environment for beneficial insects and pollinators and an opportunity to do some companion planting.
We’re always experimenting with one thing or another. So we might cut back on planting a whole row to make room for something new. We also have a few spaces in the gardens that are great for smaller plantings-- like in the South Garden, at the end of the strawberries.
Give creativity a thumbs up by playing with your plantings a bit. The maps are meant to be a guide not a rule. Think of them as a framework and you get to add the finishing touches and splashes of color and fun.
Download these spreadsheets
I created two spreadsheets—one for each garden’s rotation, so you could see how the crops were laid out for the 2020 and 2021 seasons and the proposed 'framework' for the 2022 growing season. You can download them in Microsoft Excel or Mac Numbers and then customize them to your gardens. Or just use them as examples to glean ideas.
EAST GARDEN in Excel EAST GARDEN in Mac Numbers
Don’t have as many rows or sections as we do? That’s OK—just use single rows or planting blocks for the various crops and copy part or all of the rotation, moving each row or block in succession the following year.
Don’t grow the same crops as we do? Just substitute similar crops and create your own rotation. Think through ease of access and any problems you might encounter as you shift the rows the following year.
Have your garden map from last year? Or have your garden mapped out for this year? GREAT! If it works for you, use that same map year after year—just rotate the pattern a row or two and move the last row(s) to the top of queue. No need to redo everything, especially if you have a garden plan that’s working for you!
As always, we hope your found these examples helpful and fun. A little 'tour' of our gardens via the magic of spreadsheets.
Happy planting!Our best to you, Theresa & Dan