’It’s the new dance sensation ... it’s called crop rotation ... it’s for plant fortification Šsha, nah, nah."
And thus begins -- and ends -- my song-writing career. It was a plan doomed to failure. However, another plan in the works is guaranteed to yield success. It’s my crop rotation plan for the vegetable garden.
Crop rotation simply means not planting the same vegetable or another of the same family in the same location each year. (A chart of vegetable families can be found at: www.organicsforall.org/vegetables.htm)
Rotating the location of crops every year reduces the chance of damage by pests and diseases that overwinter in the soil. The rationale is most pests and diseases are host-specific, that is, a specific insect or disease attacks a specific vegetable crop. For example, early blight (Alternaria solani), a fungal disease, infects only members of the Solanum family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant.
The fungus overwinters in infected plant debris and the soil, where it can survive several years and provide spores to infect new plantings of tomatoes. Rotating unrelated crops in that location for three or four years can dramatically reduce the fungus population and the chances of infecting tomatoes the next time they are planted there.
For successful crop rotation, make a plan of your garden each year, carefully noting the location of each crop. This makes it easier to rotate planting schemes in successive years. The resulting reduction of pest and disease problems will have you dancing to the tune of "Crop Rotation."
While you’re up, dance to the tune of these weekend tasks:
n Dig up some roots of horseradish before new growth begins. Do NOT grate horseradish in a confined room; it’s best to do it outdoors with a 40-mile per hour gale at your back. I shed many a tear before learning that lesson.
n Apply horticultural oil to fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs before they leaf out. Horticultural oil is a highly refined petroleum or plant-derived oil used to control mites, scale insects, and aphids. While very safe and effective, they are a little tricky to use. Read and follow the label directions carefully to avoid injuring the plant.
n Spread several inches of compost or other organic material over the soil and work it in to a depth of at least 12 inches prior to planting perennials. Do this as soon as your soil is workable. The pre-plant time is your best chance to work organic matter in this deep.
n Transplant divided perennials during the evening hours or on a cloudy day, preferably just before a rain. This will reduce stress on the plants and keep them from wilting.
n Buy and plant pansies in gardens, window boxes, or patio containers. Pansies are very hardy and can withstand a hard freeze and, dare I mention, snow. Pansies come in a vast array of colors and size.
n Apply fertilizer to blueberries, grapes, raspberries and strawberries. Formulations of 10-10-10 or something similar are typically used, but the specific amount to apply will vary among organic and synthetic fertilizers due to different release rates of nutrients. So, read the product label for application rates.
n Check yourself for deer ticks -- also known as Black-Legged Ticks -- each day after working in the garden. Adult deer ticks are active now. Be especially careful when raking leaves and removing other garden debris as they are favorite hiding places for ticks.
n Have a gardening question? Call the Master Gardeners’ hotline, (413) 298-5355, at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. The live hotline is staffed every Monday, 9 a.m. to noon, through Oct. 1. At other times, leave your name, phone number and the best time to get back to you, and a Master Gardener will return your call.