I mentioned a few posts ago that I was rearranging the garden layout again. For those that were following along in the spring, you know that this year was the first year finally decided to make our garden beds “permanent” and we put mulch in between them. That of course meant that I would inevitably change my mind this fall. But it is a change for good reason.
The permanent design was three 4 foot by 20 foot long beds that ran east to west along side the south side of the house. The layout was good, something we had been doing for the last few years, and it seemed to be working fairly well. But there was a big flaw in this design. For a few years now, I’ve known something in the design was amiss, but it wasn’t until this year that I was able to pinpoint what was wrong. This year was the year of the lousy tomato bed.
I was so disappointed. I hand-picked 13 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for the northern most 4′ x 20′ bed. But we only got a small handful of fruit. Our worst tomato harvest ever. And besides the low production, the plants started dying off prematurely at the west end of the bed. Over the summer, the dying-off moved east. What I suspected would one day happen finally did… we left our plants in the same area for too many years in a row.
Yep that’s right. Despite all we knew, we didn’t rotate our tomato plantings. Because of the layout, and because the toms are always the tallest plants in the garden, we’ve been planting the tomatoes in the same place for years now, the northern most of the three beds. We amend the soil every fall and spring, especially in that area since we weren’t rotating, but it caught up with us any way. We have been rotating the other crops in the other beds, but the toms have just stayed. There was only one year when we planted them somewhere else, and they shaded out the stuff behind them. As our neighbors joked with us, “Carrots love tomatoes. But carrots love sunlight too.”
I’ve puzzled over this for a few seasons now, but could never figure out just what to do with the tomatoes. Then, all at once this fall, it dawned on me that we’ve laid the beds out all wrong. If I simply switched them to four 4 foot by 15 foot beds that ran north to south, I would still get the same square footage, but I’d be far better enabled to rotate my crops. All the tomatoes could still go into one bed together, but could be rotated without shading out any other crops. Head-palm! How did it take me so long to realize this? I don’t know, but I am excited.
Also this way, I can easily designate one of the four beds to be the spring/fall bed so that I won’t plant my summer crops late again like I did this year. And, since I’m taking the time to build new “permanent” beds again, I’m going to edge them this time. One reason is so that I can kind of keep the mulch from the paths out. But also, and this is the bigger reason really, is so that I can better keep little feet out of the beds. I think the edges will be beneficial for H and especially E to know where they can and can’t walk. Also, anyone visiting (like with the chicken coop tour) will hopefully know it’s a garden and won’t tread on my baby bok choy.
My edging is not fancy. I used what was on hand. One bed is edged with random rocks from the yard and flower beds. One is edged in brick that was removed to make the neighbor’s veggie garden. Another is edged in left-over timbers that he donated to our cause. And the fourth is edged in… well, a mish-mash of materials. One day, I might make them prettier, but for now, I think they will do the job. Plus I was in a hurry to get the beds made before our first snow fall, which came in yesterday!
By the way – if you want to make a garden plan like I’ve shown in the above pictures, I totally ripped off Erica’s method. Lazy garden planners unite!