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Would you like your vegetable garden to produce nonstop? Do you hate the sight of empty non-producing soil? The answer is succession planting.
Succession planting is a simple method to plan your crops so you can harvest throughout the season. It’s about planning when and where to plant your vegetables so you can maximize the potential of your garden. Interested?
Follow these 10 easy tips to get started and enjoy the bounty of a well-planned vegetable patch.
Write down a plan.
Consider that the key to succession planting is good planning. So here’s how to plan for it. First, you have to make a list of the vegetables you and your family like to eat, as there is no point in growing something that’ll go straight to the compost bin. It is best to choose cost-effective vegetables since succession planting requires more time and effort.
Then, make a table on paper or the computer. Label the columns with the months of the year and the rows with the vegetables of your list. In each row, mark when the plant needs to be planted, when it’s growing and when it can be harvested. If you use different colors for planting, growing, and harvesting times, you will see right away what vegetables will have to share soil space and which will come after each other.
Do you have big blank spaces on the calendar? No inch of soil can be left unused! Find vegetables that grow during those times and give them a fair try. For winter harvest, try carrots, parsnips, cabbage, and lettuce. For an early spring harvest, plant broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and radishes in the fall.
Find the right varieties.
For example, winter lettuces do well when temperatures are low, but they quickly bolt in the summer months. By using both winter and summer varieties, you can extend the lettuce season a great deal.
Pick at least an “early” and a “late” variety for each of your favorite vegetables and add them to the table you made. For good early carrots try “Early Nantes” and “Amsterdam Forcing”. These can be sown as early as February if protected from frost. Good early lettuce varieties are “Salad Bowl”, “Little Gem” and “All Year Around”. “Rouge d’Hiver”, “North Pole” and “Artic King” are late lettuce varieties that do well for fall harvest, but for overwintering, try “Winter Marvel” or “Brune d’Hiver”.
Think about the size and plant shape.
For plants that grow at the same time, you can try interplanting, i.e. planting them very close together, so they share the soil.
This only works if the plants have compatible sizes and shapes. For example, creeping plants like squash can be planted around the feet of tall plants like corn, and big vegetables like tomatoes have room for small lettuces that will also benefit from the shade.
A classic example of this strategy is “the three sisters”, a Native American technique to grow corn, squash and beans in close quarters. Start by planting several corn seeds together in fertile soil. When the corn is 6 inches high, plant some beans and squash seeds around them. The beans will use the corn stalk as a trellis and fix nitrogen for the other plants. The squash will cover the soil and reduce evaporation. You can choose the varieties you like best, but remember to plant pole beans, not bush beans, and to select a corn strong enough to stand their growth. Many seed companies sell three sister seed packages that are ideal for beginners.
What are the benefits of interplanting or intercropping? Gardening Know How says:
It allows the small space gardener to grow many different crops, minimizes open spaces that encourage formation of competitive weeds, enhances soil fertility and promotes cooperation among different species to enhance the health of all the plants.
Consider time of maturity.
Try planting fast-maturing vegetables among the slower plants. By the time, the slow growers shade the soil you will have had a few harvests from it.
In a fastest vegetable competition, radishes win hands down, needing as little as 21 days from seed to harvest. Try “Cherry Bomb”, “Champion” and “Burpee White”. Romaine lettuce is also a fast grower worth a try.
Another good strategy is to plant slower growing plants that can be picked when still immature, as “baby” vegetables. For baby carrots, try “Babette” and “Romeo”. For baby onions, try “White Lisbon”.
If you’ve paid attention to planting times, you’ve seen that vegetables can be planted for several weeks. Divide your seed packet by that many weeks and seed every week. Now you won’t have a glut when all your plants come to maturity at once, and you’ll be harvesting for a longer time.
All of the fast growing vegetables, like radishes and lettuces, can be seeded continuously weekly or every 10 days. But many vegetables that have slightly longer maturity times can also be replanted for a second harvest. For example, try planting peas and beans in spring for a fall crop.
To make the most use of your space, seed slow growers in pots. By the time they are big enough to put in the soil, the previous crop will be spent, and space will be available. This trick is especially useful for plants in the cabbage family that can take anything from 11 months (purple broccoli) to 3 months (Calabrese broccoli) to mature. Seed the plants in big pots during spring and get them to the soil as space becomes available.
Containers can also be used indoors in late winter or early spring for a very early harvest. This strategy works well for all tomato varieties. Plant from seed in containers indoors as early as January and then transfer to the garden once all risk of frost has passed.
Plants can also be grown in containers until harvested. Early potato variety like “Orla” can be planted in a container indoors and moved outdoors when the danger of frost has passed. It can remain in the container, filling any odd space in the garden, until harvest.
Bugs got your lettuce? Tomatoes died of thirst? No use crying over spilled milk, just uproot the plants and plant something right away. Always keep the seed of fast-growing vegetables to make the most of these openings in a garden space. Or better yet, have extra seedlings of your favorite vegetables at hand at all times.
Plants that grow on a trellis free up a lot of room at their feet. Many plants can be grown vertically beside the usual pole beans and peas. Try zucchini, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons.
All zucchini and cucumbers grow well on trellises. A good melon variety for growing vertically is “Blacktail Mountain”. You will have to provide extra support for the melons, as they are heavy. An onion bag or old pantyhose will do. For pumpkins, try “Sugar Pie”, “Turner Family” (fruits will need support) and the decorative “Baby Bear”. Winter squash that grow well on trellises is “Acorn” and “Moorgold”.
Why go for vertical gardening? “When you grow your vining vegetables upward, you use less ground space. This increases your yield per square foot because you can fit more plants into the garden.” (www.rodalesorganiclife.com)
Protect from the cold.
To take succession planting into the fall and winter, you’ll need to protect plants from cold temperature. There are many movable cold frames or mini polytunnels you can buy or build yourself to extend the season. Just pop them over to your existing crops to give them a few more weeks. Then, when those plants are done with it, plant winter crops or varieties selected for growth under plastic.
Mizuna, mibuna, pak choi and leaf mustards, the so-called “oriental greens,” grow well under plastic in the winter. Many are come-again plants so you can just pick a few leaves from each plant for your daily salad: more will regrow.
Land cress, salad rocket, kales, Swiss chard, winter spinach, endives and winter varieties of lettuce can also be grown with little protection from the cold. Try winter roots, too: spring onions and radishes like “Black Spanish Round” also do well.
Cold frames can also be used for an early spring harvest. The mangetout pea “Oregon Sugar Pod” or the broad bean “Aquadulce Claudia” can be planted under plastic in the fall or as late as January for a very early crop.
Feed your soil.
With so much going on in the garden at once, no wonder the soil feels the pressure. Don’t forget to give it some love in the form of compost or well-rotted manure. Remember: a well-fed soil grows healthy plants.
A continuous flow of vegetables from the garden is every gardener’s dream, and it is possible with succession gardening.
Planning for succession is the best way to have a constant harvest and make sure every single inch of soil is at work.
Now you can make your garden more productive for a longer time and delight in your own produce all year. Enjoy!