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April 22, 2021

Crop rotation and companion planting -- considerations as the gardening season begins

Susan Jensen

Every spring we get a fresh start -- chances to try different crops and methods to improve the garden.  I like to see my garden as a blank canvas every year, but am challenged to consider two concepts: crop rotation and companion planting. 

The main benefits of rotating crops are supposed to be improved plant nutrition and less exposure to pests and diseases affecting the particular vegetable. I find it hard to see visible evidence of this at the hobby level but take it on faith. A few guidelines are: 

  • Rotate the legumes around since they fix nitrogen in the soil

  • Plant root crops where leaf crops have been the previous year

  • Move brassicas and tomatoes to different spots to reduce disease

  • If it is inconvenient to find a new spot for the crop, then move the soil around

This in itself can be a fun challenge in planning, and then you can add the concept of companion planting to decide what to plant where. The main goal of companion planting is to provide better conditions for both plants. Some basics include:

  • Fill in spaces around slow growing vegetables with early crops like lettuce and radishes

  • Look at a crop’s nutrition, sunlight and pH needs -- particularly for your favorites

The rules of thumb about “bean friends and tomato friends” are worth considering since these are two major crops in most gardens. Bean friends include peas, cucumbers, carrots, brassicas, corn, strawberries, potatoes and radishes. Tomato friends include onions, lettuce, peppers, basil, asparagus, cucumber, carrots, marigolds and nasturtium. 

Some examples of reasons to look up the friends and foes are that onions and basil can stunt the growth of beans. Potatoes can transfer blight to tomatoes and in our climate tomatoes need all the help they can get. 

For several years I’ve had a fennel plant dominating my garden. I love the smell and eating the seeds in the summer. It gets 6' tall and is very pretty. However I keep hearing that fennel inhibits the growth of many vegetables and anecdotally I’ve had trouble growing things around it. With a heavy heart this year I dug it up and without another good spot for this large perennial got rid of it. Little fennel plants do keep coming up everywhere so I'll try it again in a container sometime. 

Hope you enjoy all that goes into garden planning and the start of the planting season. Happy Spring!

March 02, 2021

Start a vegetable garden with success this month

Welcome to March! It is still pretty cold out but there are already crops we can start outdoors. Here are some strategies that help us get an early crop going.

Fertilize the soil

Winter rain washes nitrogen out of the soil so you’ll want to add some fertilizer before you plant. Put down a layer of compost, aged manure, and/or your favorite mix first thing. 

Dry and warm a patch for planting

Seeds can stall out and mold if the soil is too cold and soggy. Try various techniques depending on materials you have access to. Old panes of glass, black or clear plastic sheets, etc. can be put down a week or two before you plant to warm and dry the soil. This isn’t necessary, it just helps if we have bad weather.

Choose vegetables that prefer cool weather

Favorites that I am planting right now are peas, spinach and radishes. The popular regional planting chart from West Coast Seeds shows what can be planted any month of the year. There are many that can be started either indoors or out this month. I had success ordering seeds from them in February -- a pleasant surprise with all the news of seed shortages these days.

Presprout seeds indoors before planting

I really like to soak seeds until they sprout before planting them out. If your seed is large enough to handle -- as is the case with peas, spinach and radishes, soak them in water overnight, then drain and cover with some wet paper towel until they sprout. It takes a few days. I fuss over them by rinsing them every day with fresh water so they stay damp but don’t get moldy. If you don’t have time for this whole process, even a few hours of soaking before planting gives them a jump start.

Plant and protect your seeds

After you plant them, it’s worth protecting them from pests! Slugs, rodents, and birds all like little sprouts so do what you can to keep these guys out. My arsenal includes chicken wire to lay on a freshly planted patch, clear plastic tunnels, an old glass pane propped up as a makeshift cold frame, and Safers slug bait. Position any glass or plastic to keep out rodents but allow for sun and ventilation. This kind of protection doubles to further warm the soil. Again, all this fussing isn’t necessary, but if you’ve got a lot of critters around it is worth it to act preemptively so you don't go out to find all your peas dug up.

Water sparingly until the plant comes up 

If you’ve soaked the seeds, you’ve probably got enough dampness to where you won’t need to water much. Let your touch be your guide. Once the plants are growing they won’t be so sensitive to mold and cold.

Good luck starting your early spring garden!

Susan Jensen





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