The seed catalogs have been piling in and, as they do every year, their colorful pages entice me. They do their job well, the pages burst with pictures of vegetables and fruits that look so succulent that I want to plant them all, even knowing fully well that mine won’t look or grow anything like theirs.
Here lies the problem; I always do try to have it all. I think that is the case with most gardeners, especially here in the north where we have such a short growing season. We dream during the long winter days, especially when the seed catalogs show up, place our orders for a wide variety of produce and hope we can make it work when planting season actually gets here.
We even try to be creative by doing two or three different plantings of vegetables and ordering varieties with different maturity dates so everything is not ripe at the same time. I also think that the garden gods laugh at this method every year because, invariably, everything seems to ripen at the very same time, year after year.
Here lies the frustration. I am tired of trying to can, freeze and dry all vegetables and herbs all within a two or three-week span each year. So much of it goes to waste before I can get it all preserved no matter how hard I work.
Well, this year I have a new solution to the problem…I hope. I am going to try a garden rotation plan, and I don’t mean for the soil. This one is for me to make better use of the produce and my time.
It follows the same philosophy as being good stewards of the soil. Because certain crops deplete the soil of some nutrients, it is always a good idea to rotate crops each year. When I grow tomatoes on the north side of the garden one year, then the next year they move to the south side. I do this with most vegetables, taking care to plant companion style since some crops like to be planted by certain other ones.
So, last year I concentrated on growing tomatoes, lots of tomatoes. I canned tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and everything tomato-based. I knew when I was canning, that I would have more than I needed for one year. I also preserved an abundance of peppers, onions and dried herbs like rosemary, oregano and others that compliment tomatoes in dishes like spaghetti, lasagna, pizza, etc.
As it nears planting season this year, my pantry still has ample jars of tomatoes and tomato products. Looking at these leftovers is what inspired me to try this new gardening plan, a plan of rotating family of crops from year to year.
I will start the rotation this year by having a few tomato plants to eat fresh and not concentrate so much on canning them. Instead, I will dedicate more garden space to a few different varieties of green beans, lima beans, etc. and plan on canning more than one year’s worth of them.
Next year the rotation will go to various varieties of cucumbers and canning dill pickles, bread and butter and a couple other varieties.
My theory is to concentrate on preserving a different family of vegetables each year. Of course, Mother Nature will have something to say about this. Just like the Chinese New Year recognizes a different animal each year, I truly believe crops have their “glory” years too. You can fertilize, water and do everything the same and yet some years tomatoes (or any other crop) will be better and more prolific than others.
I always notice this phenomenon particularly in flowers. There is usually always one variety that steals the show whether it be zinnias, marigolds, hydrangeas, or a number of different ones. Vegetables are no different. So, in some ways, this method will be a gamble that will, hopefully, pay off in the end.
This plan of specialized planting each year should yield some advantages such as:
Natural Crop Rotation
If half the garden space is planted with different variety of beans, it will give the soil a break from tomatoes and the nutrients that they pull from the soil. The next year the garden can rest from what it takes to grow beans while something else is produced.
Ease of Fertilization
Each vegetable has its own nutrient needs. Sometimes it is like a puzzle trying to get the right combination of nutrients to each species of plant. This method would simplify the process.
Ease of Preservation
Although different varieties of each crop would probably still be ripening at the same time, the same equipment and processes would be used instead of trying to wrestle all crops in the kitchen at the same time.
With this method, you would actually be canning or freezing at least twice as much as the usual amount for one year. Since canned goods are shelf-stable for more than one year, you would be guaranteed enough for the following year in case of crop failure or other circumstances prevented that produce being put up the following year. It would take at least two or three years of using this strategy to ensure that the pantry was stocked with enough of all of the food groups for more than one year’s consumption. After that, it would be easy to stay on a rotational basis. This method would benefit everyone with a special emphasis on homesteaders.
Compensating for Bad Years
Even if there were a bad year where one crop did not produce at all (the year the squash bugs devoured my entire squash crop), you would just plan on doubling that crop the following year, thus still only losing that crop for one year.
This is the trial year to see if this method works as well functionally as it does on paper. I just remember previous years with tubs, boxes and baskets of tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and a host of other vegetables all waiting to be processed at once. Now, when I do one species, the cleaning and processing will all start the same making initial preparation more streamlined. Adding different spices and herbs will dictate the final product.
Hopefully, Mother Nature will give us a good gardening year to either prove or disprove my theory…to be continued.