- Forrabury Stitches, Boscastle
Crop rotation is a technique used in vegetable gardening and farming. The four-field system was introduced to Britain in the eighteenth century as a way of minimising pests and encouraging the soil. It follows on from the ancient strip-field farming is still visible in places, for instance on the cliffs above Boscastle in North Cornwall there is still an ancient field system, called The Stitches. Much of the land in and around Boscastle is owned by the National Trust, including both sides of the harbour, Forrabury Stitches, high above the Boscastle and divided into ancient “stitchmeal” cultivation plots. The National Trust encourage their local tenants to continue farming in the old rotation system on these mediaeval strip fields.
The usual rotation is a four year one, hence the four-field system
– brassicas or heavy feeders,
– followed by legumes that fix nitrogen,
– followed by roots that are lighter feeders,
– and finally a year of fallow.
It certainly works to keep pests like club root out of the cabbages. Growing a different family of plant in the next succession also encourages those plants to take up the goodness left by the previous ones.
I still basically use this system but I don’t get overly religious about it. There are times when, because of space or the season or the weather, things just have to go in were they can. Catch-cropping is something most gardeners do, if you don’t catch the time, season and weather Mother Nature doesn’t wait for you LOL, you can miss out completely if you don’t work with her.
My planting and rotation also comes under the influence of what plant-protection systems I have. I love butterflies … but NOT cabbage whites on my brassicas! I love rabbits … but not munching my salad. I use netting and mesh to screen insects and wildlife off my plants so some veg, like the brassicas, have to go in beds that can be covered and protected from the darling butterflies. I must say, I also grow a cabbage or two for them, and nasturtiums and such that their caterpillars like to eat. We have and “arrangement” … most of the time!
Then there are parts of the garden – it was an old farmyard 100 years ago – that don’t have deep soil because of the soak-away the farmer put in. good idea in man ways but it now restricts what I can grow over it – no carrots, swedes, turnips parsnips nor beetroot, and certainly no spuds! Onions and garlic are possible as they all rise up anyway. I mostly use those spaces for salad, spinach and such that don’t have a massive root system.
So my rotation is restricted by various practicalities. It happens to us all. The books tell us to things a particular way but Life hasn’t read the books! Life and Mother nature just carry on in their own millennial way not worrying about the very new and short-lived humans who’ve only been around farming and gardening for 25,000 years – a mere hiccough to the goddess LOL.
Rotation is a “good thing”, as it says in 1066 and All That, but everything should be done in moderation and with common sense … except perhaps making love LOL.