Our vegetable patch may feel a little dizzy this spring. It’s not just the erratic weather that switches from swoops of warm spring air to the chill of winter in a blink. It’s not just the rain that clots the earth just when the calendar says it’s time to plant.
It’s Ron Kujawski. He is fervent about rotating things in the garden. We, on the other hand, are people who always sit in the same seat at the table, almost as committed to our spots as Dr. Sheldon Cooper is to his couch cushion. For years, the cucumbers went in the northwest corner because that’s where we always put them. Potatoes were ensconced in what we called the top of the garden. (We weed on a tilt caused by the shape of Lenox Mountain.)
With an Eagle column and his former years with the Extension Service, Ron has provided gardeners with wheelbarrow loads of advice. And a ton of what he knows came out four years ago in "Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook," which he wrote with his daughter and fellow gardener, Jennifer Kujawski. And we read it -- in stages.
After all, it doesn’t really have a plot, so you don’t stay up all night with it. But it’s stuffed with good things, including when to plant. Ron and Jennifer don’t speculate about "maybe the beans today," or gamble on Mother Nature behaving. They give you page after page of "when." Nine weeks before the average date of last frost, for instance, lists a bunch of things you can plant indoors at that time.
We lean toward the gambling thing. Why not put a few bean seeds in the ground a week or so before you should -- what can happen? Well, the effort may be wasted when they succumb to a late May frost, or the soil is so cold that the beans are too busy shivering to do more than produce a row of ratty looking plants.
Now we skim those pages about timing, and last year, we succumbed to the page on Crop Rotation. Granted, we knew all about the Dust Bowl and how greedy farmers in the middle of the country overworked and overplanted their fields -- right into ruination. But our stuff seemed to be doing OK, so we only rotated accidentally. Ron, however, talks about vegetable families and wants them to live together. They don’t want to sit in the same chairs all the time. So we moved the cucumbers to the northeast, and they produced like the proverbial rabbits. We moved everything, in fact, except the sunflowers, which really have to be at the top.
Who knows if those pea seeds, so precisely planted a week or so ago by the 7-year-old granddaughter, realize they are in a different room. They’re still near family -- the beans-to-be and the onions. And next year, it seems, the onions can’t be where they were this year, nor where their relatives -- peas and beans -- are this year. If you have a 2-foot by 9-foot raised bed next to the deck, by the way, forget this. It won’t work. Not even an egg white rotates in a teaspoon.
Ron and Jennifer say rotation also reduces disease and insect pests, and their four-year rotation chart reminds me of all the pieces of graph paper we’ve used to sketch gardens. Excited in April, we carefully draw lines with a ruler and write in the date and the vegetable. Peas, potatoes, onions and spinach always make the chart -- and then it’s forgotten.
We do cross hoes with Ron on one thing. He has his saints quite mixed up. He has advised planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), and it’s St. Paul (Revere) he wants (April 19). Plant on Patriot’s Day for peas on the Fourth of July -- I grew up with that, and it works.
Ruth Bass plants and weeds in Richmond. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com