As featured in The Irish Farmers Journal – IRISH COUNTRY LIVING | 16 MAY 2018
In our school garden series, Maura Sheehy of Maura’s Cottage Flowers explains how to set up a crop rotation system and recommends what to plant before the summer holidays.
What to Plant
Before you decide what you are going to grow, it’s important to look at crop rotation. It is essential to implement a crop rotation from day one.
Organic gardening is built upon the idea of building a healthy soil. This is achieved by the recycling of nutrients in the soil. Healthy soil means healthy crops.
Crop rotation simply involves growing different crops in sequence so that the maximum value and yield can be attained. All plants have different requirements from the soil. Some plants are known as “hungry feeders” and require high levels of nutrients, which can lead to depletion of these valuable nutrients for the next crop, while others actually have an ability to return nutrients to the soil.
In general, plants from the same family tend to need similar nutrients and are most likely to suffer from the same diseases and attacks from pests. Crop rotation prevents a build-up of pests and diseases.
So in the school garden planting plan, you should group plants from the same family together and grow them in a different bes or area each year. This simple system will ensure the children will have a much higher success rate – and hopefully a bumper crop will encourage them into a lifetime of gardening, which is good for their mental and physical wellbeing, so it’s a win-win result.
Be sure to record your crop rotation plantings, as it’s easy to forget when spring comes around what vegetable was where.
There are different crop rotations to choose from, but the one I recommend is the BASL system.
- B for brassicas, commonly known as the cabbage family; for example cabbage, broccoli, radish, turnip and swede.
- A for alliums, to which the onion belongs along with leeks, garlic and spring onion.
- S for solanum – the potato family, which includes potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.
- L for legumes, the pea family, examples of which include peas, runner beans and broad beans.
Legume plants fix nitrogen in the soil. It’s a good idea to cut their stems at ground level when harvesting, leaving the roots in the ground.
Good plants to grow in May for harvest in September
You might like to plant potatoes. If space is limited, you could stack three recycled tyres and use it as a bed.
It’s a good time to sow seeds. Try sunflowers and pumpkins. Begin in the classroom and transplant before the school term ends. It is also fun to allow children to take on the responsibility of a plant like a pumpkin during their holidays and run a competition for the best pumpkin later in the year.
Why not sprinkle some wild-flower seeds in any bit of ground you have to spare? These will be here to greet you on your return to school in September.
Direct sowing of root crops such as carrots and parsnips is a good idea this month. Direct sowing simply means sowing the seed directly into the soil in its chosen location. The seedlings may need to be thinned after a few weeks to allow stronger plants to form.
Don’t forget to check on little seedlings, especially in the first few weeks. It’s easy for the soil to dry out. A rota is a good way to prevent this happening and all children love watering.
Most importantly, now is a good time to get a rota for parents and teachers set up to ensure there will be a constant eye on the garden during the holidays.
- The Year Round Organic School Garden by Living Classroom Publications.
- Bord Bia teacher worksheet: www.bordbia.ie/consumer/gardening/organicgardening/Worksheets/Planting-outside-soil-and-rotations.pdf
Maura Sheehy is a flower farmer and florist who runs Maura’s Cottage Flowers near Tralee, Co Kerry. Maura specialises in growing and supplying natural and unique arrangements for weddings, funerals, special occasions and for local businesses, as well as running regular flower-arranging classes at her studio and school garden projects.