Crop Rotation

In the spirit of making gardening easy — ie growing a maximum amount of food with a minimal amount of energy expended — I started out years ago doing some very basic crop rotation.  Vegetables will usually grow no matter where you plant them the first few years, but in the long run you’ll have healthier soil, healthier plants, and fewer pest problems (and less work) if most plants go a different spot every year.  Yep.  The benefits of crop rotation include:

  • Disease prevention (only of the plants, unfortunately, not people)
  • Insect control
  • Nutrient enhancement

Bugs live in the soil. If they wake up in the spring and find a different plant than what attracted them there the year before, they have no food and don’t survive.  Some plants use lots of nitrogen; others put nitrogen into the soil — therefore it makes sense to grow nitrogen-fixing plants one year, and nitrogen-using plants in the same spot the following year.  That’s what crop rotation is all about.

Rotating crops is easy.  It does not mean that you have to uproot and move your plants.  Crop rotation just means that plants don’t go the same place year after year.

CropRotationEasy Three-Year Rotation
This is a simple rotation that doesn’t require a degree in botany to understand about different plant families.  If you have a single vegetable garden, divide it into three sections.  Manure one section per year.  Obviously, if you have separate garden areas you can simply manure a different one every year.

In these three sections/gardens, the rotation is:

  • First section:  till in lots of manure.  Manure provides the nutrients that plants need to produce healthy leaves.1  Grow leafy vegetables that produce above-ground:  lettuce, spinach, cabbages, squashes, corn, etc.
  • Second section:  do not amend soil.  Grow root crops:  potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.  No manure here because you don’t want to grow big tops; you want to grow lots of good roots.  Manure makes carrots hairy.
  • Third section:  do not amend soil.  Plant peas and beans, which will fix nitrogen in the soil.
  • Fourth year, repeat 1st year.

Easy 4-Year Rotation

4yr crop rotationThis is very similar to the above, but the first group is split in two:  leaves/flowers (lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.) and fruits (zucchini & other squashes, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc.)

Sketch a Plan and Put It Where You Won’t Lose It

It doesn’t have to be complex, but it’s a good idea to have a notebook (or file on your computer) with notes about what is planted in each location every year.  This can be as simple as a sketch with the year written at the top.  You can add more details as you find yourself wanting the information — things like which brand of seed, which specific variety, amount planted, yield, planting date, harvest date, weather details, etc.  Whatever information will help get the maximum yield for the least effort should go into the notebook.  Don’t be a slave to the notebook, though. It’s about making life easier!

Plan your garden before you start scattering seeds.  If something ends up getting planted in a different location than you originally planned, it’s not the end of the world.  Throw seeds in the dirt, water well, mulch heavily, and wait for plants to grow.

A More Advanced Option

Garden planning can get much more advanced.  First, consider plant taxonomy.  Plants within a family have similar needs/pests, so rotate by families, rather than the simplified rotation noted above.  Also consider companion planting.  Some plants do better when paired together, and some plants do worse when planted together, so keep these discoveries in mind when deciding where to locate plants within your garden.

Taxonomy

Gardening according to plant taxonomy rotates plants according to their families (shown in red).  To rotate this way, you will need as many areas as you have families.  There are generally eleven vegetable families, but you only need to grow what your family will eat.  For instance, I have no need to grow okra so that eliminates an entire section of the garden.  Likewise with sweet potatoes.

Garden Taxonomy

Click to enlarge

Companion Planting

Companion planting accommodates the specific needs of plants you’re growing.  This theory says that it’s not enough to rotate from year to year.  We also need to bear in mind things like the fact that beans should never follow the onion family (technically, it’s the Liliaceae family, but most people would have to look up liliaceae and then find a list of those plants, whereas most people hear “onion family” and think, “Oh, that’s stuff like onions, garlic, and shallots” without having to stop and do extra research🙂 ).

Garlic not only repels vampires.  It also repels aphids, so is great to plant among your roses.

Tomatoes do well with asparagus.  Both are heavy feeders.  Tomatoes also do well with basil.  However, tomatoes and potatoes are in the same family and will both have fewer pests if they are in different parts of the garden.  Tomatoes should not be near cabbage.

Brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, etc) grow well near aromatic herbs like sage, rosemary, and peppermint — perennials that you don’t necessarily want in your vegetable garden, but might like to have nearby or in the border.

Lettuce doesn’t like hot weather.  It can be planted among the corn; the corn will shade the lettuce, keeping it cooler so it lasts longer.

Lots of plants don’t like to grow near sunflowers. Corn is an exception.  Corn and sunflowers both do great if planted in alternating rows.  I like to plant four rows of corn in each bed, with one row of sunflowers down the center.

Raccoons like corn, so if you’re plagued with this problem, plant vining squashes at the ends of your corn rows.  Raccoons don’t like the vines and will leave the corn alone.  In addition to putting vines with your corn, you can also plant pole beans with your corn, letting the beans climb the corn stalks.  Of course, this requires delaying the bean crop so that the corn is tall enough to support the beans when they start shooting up 4″ per day.  (Horses also like corn, but your only remedy here is to plant far enough from the fence that the horses can’t reach — easily accomplished if you leave space for vines next to the fence, but I’m ashamed to admit how long it took me to figure this out).

The best thing, really, is to google companion planting and locate the vegetables you want to grow to see what things will grow well together.  Or visit your public library and borrow the book Carrots Love Tomatoes.

Fertilizer

I am amazed at the number of gardening books & websites that advocate testing soil to figure out which type of fertilizer is needed.  Don’t fall into that trap.  If you don’t have access to horse and cow droppings, you can still manure your garden.  Some horse stables sell manure — others will give it away if you do the scooping/hauling yourself.  Take a drive out in the country and knock on doors where there are animals.  You’ll have to go out in the pasture with a shovel and buckets, but the benefit to your garden is worth it. If you’re not brave enough to knock on the door of complete stranger, leave a note on the bulletin board of a feed store.  Call a large-animal hospital — some even have signs up periodically offering free manure (u-haul).  Another option is to put a rabbit hutch in your garden.  Some people put the rabbit hutch on skids and move it every year — this means you just let everything drop out the bottom and fertilize your fallow garden spot, then till it in the next year when you slide the hutch to a new spot in the garden. There are much better options than purchasing chemical fertilizers.

My Garden

Theory can sometimes be overwhelming.  “Just tell me what to plant!” someone might moan.  Well, plant what you’ll eat.  My gardens vary every year based both on what we want to eat, and on how much I have left over from the year before.

This year I’m using two garden plots and completely ignoring the third (although I should at least plant a cover crop in the third, but probably won’t get around to it):

2016Garden

Next year, everything will rotate.  Also, I put spinach in the raised beds with the strawberries (and might add borage). There’s a separate raised bed for lettuce, carrots, and peas; the peas shade the lettuce and it lasts most of the summer.  Herbs and rhubarb are near the house (I plan to move the herbs since they’ve grown much larger than anticipated), and artichokes and asparagus are in raised beds around the yard.  Sadly, something killed all my blueberries.

The whole goal is to grow what your family will eat, without wearing yourself out.  Happy gardening!

____

1Horse, cow, and chicken manure need time to begin decomposing. If using fresh manure, rototill into the soil, then wait two weeks before planting. The breakdown generates heat which can kill seeds and young plants (which is why these are called “hot” manures). “Cold” manures such as rabbit droppings and llama/alpaca beans can go straight onto plants; there is no need to wait before planting in soil amended with cold manures.

Pain Meds

If there are 7.4 billion people on earth, and 324 million of them live in the United States, then the U.S. has 4.6% of the world’s population.  Why, then, do we take 80% of the world’s opioids?

Ever since the March 15 publication of CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, the internet has been full of responses to those guidelines.  Some in favor, some against.  In general, it seems that those who take (or anticipate taking) pain medicine want easier access to pain meds, while those who aren’t in pain want to reduce the number of drug overdoses by reducing people’s access to prescription narcotics.

Those of us in Washington state have been thinking that the rest of the country doesn’t know how good they have it.  In Washington, doctors don’t have a lot of discretion.  The politicians have dictated how physicians are to practice medicine.  For patients wanting pain medication for chronic pain, consultation with a pain specialist is required by law.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough pain specialists.  Monthly appointments get expensive – both in paying for the doctor, and in paying for the tests to prove you’re taking the medicine correctly.  Patients have told horror stories.  There’s the MS patient denied pain medicine.  And the patient whose cancer surgery caused nerve pain.

Reducing the number of deaths caused by opioid overdose is a noble goal.  I have dear family friends whose daughter-in-law died from an accidental pain medication overdose.  She had Raynauds and severe joint pain, but no rheumatologist, no arthritis diagnosis or treatment.  That is a tragedy.  Her primary physician prescribed pain medicine to reduce her pain and improve her quality of life.  She was a great wife and a great mom and the pain meds made the difference so that she could function.  One night she took her pain medicine like usual and went to bed.  The next morning she didn’t wake up.  Somehow she’d taken too much.  That single dosing accident means that her kids have no mom and her husband is raising their children alone.  The fact that she was not an addict won’t bring her back.

This is not a small problem.  We’re losing 11,000 people a year to prescription opioid overdoses.  Add to that all the ER visits for prescription overdoses that the person survives (420,000, but it isn’t clear what time period those numbers cover).  A recent study found that when opioids are prescribed for chronic pain, 1/550 people die of an overdose.  On average, this OD takes place 2.6 years from the first prescription.  The numbers get worse, though.  As tolerance builds and doses increase, those numbers climb.  At high doses, the OD death rate is 1/32!

What is the Solution?

I am sympathetic to those who see the death rate due to opioid overdose and want to reverse its upward trend.  When I started this post, I was in favor of the new guidelines.  The more I have learned, however, my position has changed.  Perhaps crusaders have the wrong target.

CauseOfDeath

If we’re going to protect people from themselves, then why not go after the big offenders?  Car crashes kill three times as many people as opioid overdoses.  Alcohol abuse kills nearly seven times as many.  Cigarettes kill nearly half a million people every year.  Where is the outrage?

The fact is that prohibition didn’t work, and I don’t believe the new guidelines will work, either.  Do we want a free nation as envisioned by our forefathers, or do we want the government micromanaging our lives?  At some point, people need to take personal responsibility.

The key is personal responsibility.  As long as doctors can be sued when a patient dies after taking opioids differently than prescribed, doctors will remain reluctant to prescribe opioids for chronic pain patients.  Our current system isn’t working.  Patients who have a legitimate need for pain control can’t get it, but criminals who don’t care about the law have no trouble obtaining narcotics.  Something has to change.

I never thought I’d say this, but maybe the solution is to slap warning labels on the bottles and set opioids on the grocery store shelf next to the wine and whiskey.  Or put the drugs beside the cigarettes.  Chronic pain patients could choose between pain pills and other methods of pain management.  Hospital emergency departments would no longer have to deal with drug seekers.  Pharmacists would lose half their blog fodder.  People would no longer lose their homes due to medical bills incurred in an attempt to obtain pain relief.  I am sure that the death rate would climb, but the fault would rest squarely on the shoulders of the victim, more in line with alcohol and cigarette deaths.

Patients should still consult with physicians to learn about types of pain relief that would be good to try, but the doctor would no longer bear liability.  After that consultation, the patient could stop at the store to pick up the best medication given the situation, cutting out the insurance company.  Pain medicine would cost less and be more available.  Patients would no longer bear the financial expense of monthly doctor’s appointments and lab work.  No more time off work and loss of income due to travelling to/from those appointments.

At some point, we have to admit that the government nanny model doesn’t work.  Give people the tools to make decisions, then set them free.

_________________

See Also:

Scholarships

Last week I received a request to let my readers know about AbbVie’s Rheumatology Scholarship.  To be honest, I’ve struggled with this.  My daughter was already working on the application.  She has a better shot at a scholarship that has few applicants than if there are zillions of applicants.  Do I really want everyone to know about this opportunity?  Since you’re reading this post, you realize that I decided to go ahead and help spread the news.

There are fifteen $15,000 scholarships available to students seeking degrees from either college or trade school.  To be eligible, the student’s doctor must confirm diagnosis of either RA, JIA, PsA, or AS.  More details can be found in the message AbbVie sent:

__________

Did you know students living with a rheumatologic disease like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) face unique challenges as they pursue their higher education goals? These students have a higher prevalence of short-term school absences when experiencing symptoms. According to one study, over 90% of students with rheumatologic disease seeking treatment at a rheumatology center reported missing school an average of 3.9 days during a two month period compared to the national average of 1.1 days.1

AbbVie recently launched the AbbVie Rheumatology Scholarship, which is designed to provide financial support for exceptional students living with RA, JIA, psoriatic arthritis (PsA) or ankylosing spondylitis (AS), as they pursue their higher education goals. Our hope is that this scholarship will further empower patients to reach their educational goals.

Below is a brief overview of the scholarship for your reference.

AbbVie Rheumatology Scholarship Overview

  • The scholarship is available to students living with RA, JIA, PsA or AS, who are seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited United States (U.S.) university/college or trade school, and who plan to enroll for the 2016-2017 school year.
  • Fifteen Rheumatology Scholars will be selected. The award value will be $15,000 for each recipient.
  • Applicants will be judged based on academic excellence, community involvement, written response to an essay question and ability to serve as a positive role model for the rheumatology community.
  • Key dates and deadlines include:
    • Applications are available on RheumScholarship.com.
    • Applications must be submitted by April 4, 2016.
    • Winners will be notified by April 29, 2016.
  • More information on the AbbVie Rheumatology Scholarship, the application process and eligibility criteria can be found at RheumScholarship.com.