In real estate, the three most important words are location, location, location. Right now in the Trafalgar Garden, we are completing many crops, pulling them up and it's time to replant. What we are trying to define is how to rotate our crops. Living in the land of three crops a year, replenishing the soil and starting again with planting is our immediate concern.
Now it makes sense to some to just add new soil and nutrients on top of existing soil, but the problem comes in pathogens that have been introduced into the existing soil. Judith is mapping the former crops and where they were planted, a necessity in plotting out the new plantings. Our mantra, the three most important words of gardening, has become, "rotation, rotation, rotation!"
Repeating a plot plan the same way, same plant, same place, results in plants that fail to thrive, and they decline in harvest. The core principle is to plant annual vegetables based on their botanical family. Plants in the same family are genetically related, attracting the same insects and diseases, just laying in wait for a fresh crop.
My favorite gardening guru is from Leon County, a Master Gardener and father-in-law to my middle daughter, who teaches at Trafalgar Middle School. She's my main reason for involvement.
He waits five years between replanting crops of the same family in any given spot. It is generally recommended that you rotate at least every three years. Basically, you are playing a game of keep away. Hide plants while insects and pathogens seek.
Annual vegetable families and members are:
- Carrot, aka parsley (Apiacaeae or Umbelliferae) - caraway, carrot, celeriac, celery, chervil, cilantro, dill, fennel, lovage, parsley, parsnip.
- Goosefoot, aka chard (Chenopodi-aceae) - beet, orache, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard.
- Gourd, aka squash (Cucurbitaceae) - cucumber, gourd, melon, pumpkin, squash (summer and winter), watermelon.
- Grass (Poaceae, aka Gramineae) - sweet corn.
- Mallow (Malvaceae) - okra.
- Mint (Lamiaceae, aka Labiatae) - anise, hyssop, basil, Chinese artichoke, lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savory, sweet marjoram, thyme.
- Morning Glory (Convolvulaceae) - sweet potato
- Mustard, aka cabbage (Brassicaceae, aka Cruciferae) - arugula, bok choi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard, kale, kohlrabi, komatsuna, mizuna, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip, watercress.
- Nightshade (Solanaceae) - eggplant, pepper, potato tomarillo, tomato.
- Onion (Alliaceae) - chives, garlic, leek, onion, shallot.
- Pea, aka legume (Fabaceae, aka Leguminosae) - bush, kidney, lima, pole and soy beans; lentil; pea; peanut.
- Sunflower, aka aster (Asteraceae,aka Compositae) - artichoke, (globe and Jerusalem), calendula, chamomile, dandelion, endive, escarole, lettuce, radicchio, salsify, sunflower, tarragon.
Vegetable families must move together. In our three crops a season case, it is best to rotate the three crops with each planting.
The wonderful thing about beans and peas is, they are legumes. Legumes are soil enhancers and considered "green manure" when dug into the soil. Most legumes have symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria in their roots called rhizobia, that allows them to absorb nitrogen from the air, and then release it into the soil. After these plantings you can use heavy feeders, like leafy crops, followed by cabbage and other Cruciferae that use the heavy nitrogen.
These can be followed by root crops that don't want that much nitrogen because it will go to producing more leaf than fruit. Root crops break up the soil so they can be followed by legumes again, that like loose soil texture. You can even leave a section with only "green manure" like clover, and dig that in later to allow the soil to rest.
Tomatoes need plenty of calcium to prevent blossom end rot. Corn needs to be planted in blocks for ultimate pollination when the wind blows. If doing rows, do at least four rows in each direction, a block of 16 plants to take advantage of the blowing pollen. Crops that span more than one season need to be placed off and away from regular lots, like our strawberries on mounds.
Right now we are having problems with too much watering. Use very little water in cold weather because plants can't utilize it without heat. The overhead sprinklers were set for 5 p.m. and we all know sunset is 5:30 p.m. No light, no heat, sets up conditions for mold. No overnight wet.
It was fun having Roy Beckford from the Extension pay us a visit last Monday. He inspected the garden for pests and found aphids and cutworms, but what excited him the most was a cluster of gold-beige fungi. He laughed and took out his camera phone and clicked away. He called it "dog vomit" fungi because of how it looked, not because a dog had been there.
He also told us about the theory that farmers and gardeners are happy people because of an article in the scientific Discover Magazine, titled, "Dirt is the new Prozac!" I realize I have always felt better after digging in the dirt, planting, thinking it was the exertion clearing my head, but here was scientific evidence that a specific soil bacterium, "Mycobacterium vaccae," may be able to alleviate depression. It activates a set of serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain, the same nerves Prozac targets. So, he scooped a handful of dirt (soil to a Master Gardener), took a big sniff and said if you feel down, take time to smell the dirt!
The researchers had set out to find out if the sharp rise in asthma and allergies came from our living too clean a life. They felt that "routine exposure to harmless microorganisms, being soil bacteria, trains our immune systems to ignore benign molecules like pollen or the dandruff on a dog." My mother and other mothers have always said, "You need to eat at least a peck of dirt before you die." My family doctor, when the children were young and they were exposed to mumps, measles and various childhood diseases, said, "Let them get it, and build up their immunities."
So when you are down and out, remember, "Don't worry, be happy," take time to smell the dirt and release the serotonin-releasing neurons that give you peace. Remember to thank a plant for your life giving oxygen also.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener; hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.