Succession Planting

Make the most of your garden space by cultivating ways to harvest fresh vegetables in all four seasons.

| Summer 2017

  • Succession planting starts with a little planning: Make a list of what you want to grow, and calculate how long it'll take from the time you plant until you can harvest.
    Photo by iStock/GiorgioMagini
  • You can use leaf lettuce to fill in any unexpected empty spaces in the garden -- here, between rows of tomatoes.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing/Joseph De Sciose
  • Salad crops can be sown every few weeks for a nonstop harvest.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing/Joseph De Sciose
  • Arugula grows so quickly that it's also known as "rocket."
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Jurga Jot
  • You can sow a band of carrot seed in a cold frame in late winter to get a jump on a spring crop. Radishes are ridiculously fast growing.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/George Dolgikh
  • Pull up plants after their quality declines or after they go to seed, and replace them with fresh seed or transplants.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing/Joseph De Sciose
  • Broccoli and other cool-season crops can be planted very early in spring.
    Photo by iStock/teps4545
  • Baby carrots are ready to harvest in less than two months when planted in spring, summer, and fall.
    Photo by iStock/More86
  • You can prolong your kohlrabi harvest by planting cultivars with a mixture of maturity dates so they'll ripen over a period of months instead of just weeks.
    Photo by iStock/digihelion
  • With pick-and-sow succession planting, you can grow a series of vegetables in the same space -- spring radishes followed by warm-season zucchini, for example.
    Photo by iStock/tatyana_tomsickova
  • Succession planting can help you outwit insect pests by avoiding their prime season. If squash vine borers are a problem, you can plant a second crop of zucchini in early summer, after the adults have finished laying their eggs.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Alvintus

The goal of succession planting is simple — to enjoy a continuous and uninterrupted supply of fresh vegetables. This type of planting is particularly important in small backyard gardens, where space is at a premium. Many of my favorite crops for succession planting are those that thrive in the cool or cold weather of spring and fall. They enjoy an extended growing season, unlike warm-season crops, which have a very specific window of cultivation between the frost dates.

Successful succession planting starts with a little planning. Make a list of what you want to grow, and then write in the expected planting dates and the number of days until harvest. That way, you’ll know how long it’ll take from the time you plant to when you can expect to start gathering each crop. Some crops, such as leaf lettuce, can produce over an extended period, so it’s also helpful to know the general length of the expected harvest. After the crop is finished, it’ll be time to replant.

In addition to creating an endless harvest, succession planting can help you outwit insect pests by avoiding their prime season. If squash vine borers are a problem in your garden, you can plant a second crop of zucchini in early summer, after the adult borers have finished laying their eggs. To put succession planting to work for you, keep the following advice in mind.

Keep on Seeding

One of the easiest ways to practice succession planting is simply to keep on seeding. This technique works best with quick-growing vegetables, such as lettuce, arugula, radishes, and bush beans, which can be planted every few weeks. Continual sowing will produce a staggered harvest — that is, your whole crop won’t be ready at the same time. After all, who needs to have a whole packet of radish seeds mature at once? For a family of four, it makes more sense to sow about 20 radish seeds every two weeks. After radishes reach maturity, they start to lose their quality rather quickly. By planting in succession, you’ll be able to harvest perfectly mature radishes for months.

To keep on seeding, you’ll need to leave space in your garden bed for subsequent plantings. In our garden, we often divide a 4-by-4-foot bed into six mini-rows, each measuring about 8 inches wide and planted right up next to each other — no wasted space! I can sow a mini-row of leaf lettuce or mesclun mix every two weeks for a continuous crop from early spring to late fall. By the time my second and third mini-rows are ready to harvest, the first will be exhausted and ready for the compost heap. Then, I work an inch of compost into the original row and replant with more leaf lettuce, or another crop of my choice.

Some crops that are ideal for this type of succession planting are radishes, bush beans, beets, kohlrabi, carrots, and most salad greens.



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