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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Perennials/Bulbs as a part of your food supply/Home orchard/Vines

Note: this lecture is proposed if we have rain and cannot do the class I have planned. We have a classroom and we will be dry (class goes on regardless of the weather). If we have pleasant weather, my plan is for a good deal of other things – we cannot work with bees in the rain and we cannot tour our gardens in the rain.

How will I rotate crops in a small garden?

I don't – I integrate all crops together, Two exceptions: corn (for pollination) and garlic (to dry out at the end of the season) (onions also need a bit of drying out too)

My system requires constant inputs of compost! I tend to not plant directly in the same spot, although my plots need to be constantly planted so I'm not real picky about it.

Some general rules:
  1. Never follow Legumes with tomatoes.
  2. Always follow corn with legumes – or plant legumes in the corn.
  3. Cabbage family plants follow alliums, especially if you have trouble with nematodes

Divide your garden into sections to make crop rotation easier.

You don’t have to be a farmer to use the age-old practice of rotating crop families – in fact, for the home gardener, the process is vitally important to the health and productivity of your garden. From disease prevention to nutrient balancing, the benefits of crop rotation make it worth the extra planning required to put the system in place. Here’s an easy way to plan a four-step crop rotation in a home garden regardless of the size.

Reasons to Rotate Crops

  • Disease Prevention: The main reason to rotate crops is to prevent the spread of plant disease. Disease organisms can build up over time, resulting in eventual crop failure. Rotating crops keeps these organisms in check.
  • Insect Control: Crop rotation also helps reduce insect infestations.
  • Nutrient Balance: Different families of plants require different nutrients. By rotating your crops, you keep the soil from being depleted and can target soil amendments to keep your garden balanced.
  • Nutrient Enhancement: Some plants actually enhance the soil, so rotating them through the garden can produce free organic soil conditioning.

Crop rotation helps prevent diseases, especially for tomatoes.

Principles of Crop Rotation

Simply put, crop rotation involves dividing the garden into sections, and planting a different plant family in each section every year. A systematic rotating schedule ensures that every section eventually receives each plant family. Most crop rotation systems have at least four sections, with four rotating plant groups.

Gardening Tip

You can develop your own rotation system based on the veggies you like to grow – for instance, if you love onions, you might dedicate a whole section of your crop rotation just to onion varieties. Or if you grow just tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, you can rotate those three. The main idea is that you keep things moving around.

The Four-Step System

To get started in the home garden, you can use a simple four-step system that requires little more than a basic understanding of what part of the plant you’re planning to eat. Divide your garden into four simple groups:

Group 1: Plants grown for Leaves or Flowers, such as:

  • Salad greens
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts

Group 2: Plants grown for Fruits, such as:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Potatoes

Group 3: Plants grown for Roots, such as:

  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Onions
  • Beets

Group 4: Legumes that Feed the Soil, such as:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Cover crops (such as alfalfa or clover)

Sample Crop Rotation Plan

Tips for Successful Crop Rotation

  • Even small gardens can be rotated—the four areas can simply be sections of planting beds— although with smaller gardens, it’s harder to keep diseases from spreading from one section to another.
  • Potatoes and tomatoes are actually related, and they’re susceptible to the same diseases – that’s why they’re grouped together. If you have problems with early blight, you may need to separate them and not follow one with the other.
  • Since legumes add nitrogen to the soil, they’re followed by nitrogen-loving leafy crops, which reduce the need for fertilizer.
  • Root crops break up the soil, so they’re followed by legumes that like the loose soil texture.
  • Some veggies—such as lettuce, cucumbers, melons, and squash—aren’t as susceptible to diseases and can go pretty much anywhere you have the space, but it’s often easier to plan your garden by including and rotating everything.

You can practice crop rotation in a garden of any size.

Getting More Advanced

There are almost as many crop rotation systems as there are gardeners! If you’ve mastered the basics and would like to get more advanced with your crop rotation, the next step is to group plants according to their botanical family, which gives you more specific groups, and more sections of crop rotation. Here are some of the common plant families in vegetable gardening:
  • Chenopodiaceae: beets, Swiss chard, spinach
  • Compositae: artichoke, endive, lettuce
  • Convolvulaceae: sweet potatoes
  • Cruciferae: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, arugula, and rutabaga
  • Cucurbitaceae: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, melons
  • Gramineae: corn
  • Leguminosae: beans, peas
  • Liliaceae: onions, leeks, shallots
  • Malvaceae: okra
  • Solanaceae: (Nightshades) tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers
  • Umbelliferae: carrots, celery, fennel

Gardening Tip

Try to dedicate at least one section each year to a “green manure” cover crop—such as alfalfa or clover—that you can till into the soil, or mix in plenty of organic matter and allow the soil to rest.

Problems with the common rotation:
  1. We don't have the space for this kind of scheme
  2. Doesn't allow for the seasonality of our climate

Substitute mixing vegetables in a single bed and doing that constantly in order to minimize pest and increase soil fertility. Substitute companion planting and mixing dissimilar plants in a single bed.

Wikipedia has a very thorough lists of companion planting

Perennials in our food supply


Jerusalem artichokes
Onions, walking and others


Blueberries (Southern Highbush, low chill) – to about 4 feet, prefer acidic soils and lot’s of water. Other than that, easy to grow
Ribes sp.currants, Gooseberry


Berries/Rasp and black, boysenberry,
Passion fruit

The following herbs are perennial as well:

Anise hyssop
Some basils
Burnet, salad
Lemon Verbena
Sweet marjoram
Oregano, Greek (Origanum heracleoticum)
Tarragon, French

This is also THE very time to begin to think about fruit trees. I urge you to think about fruit trees for a while before making the dive because they are a big investment, not so much in money, but in time and patience. Once one has planted a fruit tree, some will take several years to come into full production – if you find the fruit unsatisfactory, or you have a variety that doesn't fruit well for you, all that time is wasted.

Gather as much data as you can in order to choose the tree that is right for you. Here are some sources you will find helpful – I suggest you go online and order the printed catalog because you'll want to cross check facts and types with each different nursery before you commit.

Trees of Antiquity, ( is the place where we purchased most of our trees here in The Learning Garden. I found them extremely helpful and very knowledgeable. It was they who suggested Dorsett Golden as our apple here and it is truly one of the finds of a lifetime for our area.

Raintree Nursery, ( invariably is where I place my ongoing orders for my propagation class (that starts in January) because I need rootstocks for the class, but their selection is lovely too and their catalog is worth a read.

My old standby, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, ( is a great supplier of trees and fruit bushes, but their selection isn't nearly as complete and their catalog isn't a detailed as these others. Still, if you are already ordering something from Peaceful and they have the variety you want, you can't go wrong with them.

Dave Wilson Nursery ( has one of the most extensive websites around on fruit trees. It is really worth a good solid look, chock full of data.

The University of California has gotten in on the act with a website, The California Backyard Orchard (, that is a wonderful web site for a lot of answers about growing fruit trees in our climate. It also promotes the UC ANR publication, The Home Orchard which I recommend if someone is going to go into this head over heals – like I want to!

After looking through these catalogs, one might have narrowed their purchase down to a few trees. Once you get trees, these following sources are lovely to have in your library:

The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden, Otto, Stella, © 1995 Ottographics This is the oldest book in this list and probably the smallest too, so it isn't as chock full of data as the other two, but then it would be the least expensive as well. Otto covers a lot more, obscure, fruits and so this is a book for the adventurous and those who don't want to spend a lot of money. It is a gem of a book and she does not intimidate the reader.
The Home Orchard, Ingels, C. et al, © 2007, University of California, Agriculture & Natural Resources One of the very best books for learning about the home orchard. Well written, easy to understand, good photos, this one has it all. No shortcuts, I like this book. It is available through the address above (and on sale as of this writing – which means a new edition might be on its way out – because of the sale, it is cheaper from ANR directly than it is from Amazon).
The Organic Apple Grower, Phillips, Michael, © 2005, Chelsea Green Publishing Although written for the New England area of the country, he introduces tools of the trade with a flair and his way of doing things IS organic. Might be one to check out from the library, but you will find plenty of good information and lots of lovely reading about organic apple production. (And his description of finding a flat-head apple borer makes my fulminations over slugs seem very, very tame.)

Some Fruit Varieties That Do Well Here:

Apples -

Dorsett Golden – as mentioned above, is our heavy cropper. It takes about 3 years to really settle in (although it will bear fruit, they are tiny for the first three or so years with full sized fruit beginning to show up in year three). We have Dorsett Golden on half size fruit stock and it's a fair sized critter.
Gala – we have this on a dwarf rootstock – she's about five feet tall at this point and not likely to get much larger. Lovely apples with crisp texture and that is what I prize in an apple.
Fuji – one of my all time favorites, but the one we have in the garden is a 500 chill hour plant and in three years I harvested one small apple. It WAS good, but it wasn't worth all that time. Sadly, ours will have to be replaced. (There are newer Fuji trees that have less chilling requirement and I may buy one of those.

If I had known better, I would have planted more varieties with a wider range of fruiting times to extend the harvest – as it is now, we get a ton of apples in late May/early June and then we are done for the year. Although, a quick look at the literature shows that there are precious few apples to choose from that will fruit here.

Apricot -

Gold Kist – hands down, the best apricot I have ever eaten! A self-pollinated variety, this one tree stands out as the best fruit in our garden. While Royal Blenheim is the touted variety for our climate, I just love Gold Kist and have no desire to look beyond it.

Pear -

Seckle is usually the only one suggested for our area of the European pears. We have one, but it ended up in a neglected area and I've got nothing to report. Although, I don't think a ripe pear can be beat by much for shear hedonistic eating!

Figs -

Violettte de Bordeaux – is our tree that has been a champion for five years. It bore fruit the first year and it has not stopped since. A deep black skinned fruit, the flesh is a gorgeous red and has a smoky richness that is heavenly.
White Genoa – is an Italian variety that took forever to fruit. Once it finally put on a crop by which it could be judged, I began to appreciate its lighter and sweeter amber flesh. A really lovely fig.

Nectarine -

Double Delight – not to be confused with the rose of the same name, this is a yellow fleshed freestone nectarine, heavily bearing and needs a LOT of thinning – we almost lost several branches because it just over set fruit. I know Peaceful Valley calls it 'sensational' but I think that's a little over the top. It's good and with vanilla ice cream it's really good. But not 'sensational.' It is self-fertile.

Peaches -

Red Baron – this is one of our two peaches – this is a yellow freestone and a very good producer of large fruits. The other one is a clingstone and I like its flavor better, but I can't find the record on it and don't know which one it is. The importance of keeping good records, where you can find them is not to be overlooked. (I do have this all written down and saved in a computer file from 2003, but I can only find files back to 2005 right this second.)

Plums -

Santa Rosa – this is one of the thousands of plants that Luther Burbank created (he lived in Santa Rosa and gave us the Burbank potato, the Shasta Daisy among thousands of others), and I find this to be the best and most prolific producer of any tree in our gardens today. It makes a fabulous sorbet, delicious jam and fresh eating cannot be beat. There are several other plums that will do well in our region, but I haven't got past this one.

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