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One of the key factors in growing your own vegetables is ensuring you rotate your crops every year to avoid a build up of disease and prevent a complete depletion of nutrients. In fact, some species of plant put certain nutrients back into the soil, so by rotating things around you can ensure optimum and healthy conditions.
But even with a small plot of land you may have lots of growing beds, and keeping track of what’s been growing where is one particular daunting task I am certainly not looking forward to.
Let me introduce you to VGALive, a 100% free (now and forever) online vegetable plot management system and encyclopaedia.
What is it?
The name isn’t particular descriptive, but it’s main function is to keep track of your yearly crop growing cycle – as much or as little as you wish. You can record what crop you have planted, where and when it was put in and harvested, and keep a complete history of that zone. When considering what to plant next year, it’s easy to see what you can safely put in there next, and the built in seed catalog makes it easy to plan ahead before the busy spring season comes.
Head on over to thevga.co.uk and click on sign up to begin. It’s painless and you’ll be able to log-in immediately.
Create a Plot and Some Beds:
Once logged in, your first step should be to create a plot as well as some beds. If you’re not sure what these means, your plot would “garden” or “allotment”, while beds will be the individual sections of the garden that you’re going to cultivate.
You’ll need to create a plot before creating beds, so go ahead. From My Plots, select New. Next you’ll create beds. One thing to bear in mind is that beds cannot be deleted once they’ve been created (not sure why), but you can alter the name etc at a later date. This could pose problems for me next year, as it’s painfully obvious this year that my beds are far too close together, so I’ve ended up with a pathway less than 20cm across!
Having created some beds, go ahead and upload pictures so you don’t forget which ones they are.
To add something to your garden, click My Crops – Sow New Crop. This is where the magic happens – when you select a particular bed to plant in, any family of crop grown there in the last 2 years will be greyed out, letting you know what you can safely plant. It’s a great at-a-glance feature, but I would personally appreciate bigger pictures, or more functionality from them – like even a simple tool tip when you mouse over that lists the plants of that family.
Another of my favorite features is the crop finder, which lists loads of crops that can be planted month-by-month, so if you’re trying to plan in advance or just have a spare bit of ground which you’re not sure what to do with, it can be a great resource for ideas.
The visual cues for where to plant are a nice touch too, but I see room for improvement – even though there’s a small button next to each crop showing the symbol for sow, it takes you to the Sow New Crop form but doesn’t actually pre-fill the crop name for you.
There seems to a few key points about the system, like deleting beds, that are noticeably missing. As something that is 100% free though, I don’t really feel I can complain too much, as the sheer level of functionality that you do get is far better than anything I could find elsewhere – paid or not.
Another point to keep in mind is that the site seems to be somewhat dying. The forums are completely inactive, and the Live Help! page seems to be selling an offline version of the software, yet half the images are broken. I’ll be in contact with the owners of site to see if it’s still being actively maintained, but it’s difficult to tell at this point.
I realize this is quite a niche topic, but I had a lot of difficultly finding a system that suited my needs when I moved into my house in February. If you’re curious as to how I’m doing so far, my wife and I have actually kept a Tumblr photo diary of everything we’ve harvested, but bear in mind we are complete beginners with a small garden. I began this year by germinating as many seeds as I could all at once – but I think that’s something everyone does when they first start. I really appreciate a free system such as VGA Live to help beginners such as myself, but I do feel like a lot of functionality is going to waste. There’s much more that could be improved and done with this fantastic resource and free web application.