Juggling seed crops in your rotation

Ben Raskin - 19 May 2014

Soil Association logo in seedsAs a commercial grower, crop planning was always a mixed blessing. It provided a good opportunity to come in from the winter cold and rain for a few hours, and fantasise about next year's growing successes. Less enjoyable were the endless spreadsheets and calculations about seed rates and areas that, like shifting desert sands, seemed different every time I picked up the calculator or returned from replenishing my tea cup.

Now that I have my allotment I still enjoy mapping out where things will go and working out a rotation even though I know I don’t have to prove to an inspector where my crops were last year. As always, and only one sowing into the year, my plan is already obsolete. The chard has held on longer than I thought so my first carrots have gone somewhere else. So long as I keep a record of where they went, I’m not too worried as a good plan should have plenty of flexibility built in.

If you've been inspired to try some seed saving this year, but hadn’t planned it into your rotation then it's worth giving it a little bit of thought now before it's too late to change everything. For some crops it doesn’t make any difference. Beans and tomatoes for instance you can treat as you normally would and just keep some of the crop for seed.

For biennial crops there are two options:

  • One is to lift and either store or plant overwinter and then grow in the next year’s part of the rotation for that crop. This is very easy for most root crops and even leeks. Brassicas are bit trickier and need to be carefully dug up and either put into pots or into the new area.
  • Alternatively if you have a bit more space, you can dedicate an area to crops for seed production. If you are only growing one or two crops for seed this can work quite well allowing you keep larger number of plants to give good genetic diversity. Of course you can still eat some of the produce from the plants you’re not going to eat.

For me the only headache at the moment is that I have a spectacular large leaved rocket that has self-seeded in my glasshouse. It's flowering well at the moment, but no seed yet and I need the space. How much longer can I wait? Maybe I should have stuck to last year's plan after all.

Ben is Head of Horticulture at the Soil Association. After discovering the outdoor life on an organic vineyard in Northern Italy, and a one year professional gardening course at Lackham College, Ben has worked in horticulture for 20 years. Previous incarnations include running a walled garden in Sussex, working for the HDRA (now Garden Organic) at their gardens in Kent, setting up and running the horticultural production at Daylesford Organic Farm, before moving to the Welsh College of Horticulture as commercial manager. Ben is passionate both about the commercial production of high quality organic vegetables and teaching practical skills to all ages through on farm learning. Ben set up the Soil Association Future Growers apprenticeship scheme and is also the author of Compost – a family guide to making soil from scraps

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23 May 2014 14:01

Nice - here is one of my favourite seed-saving resources:- http://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedsavinginfo.html

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