If you are looking to continuously supply your kitchen with a variety of interesting and healthy fresh vegetables then succession planting definitely has a place in your garden. In its simplest form, succession planting is just growing the same or different crops one after another in the same spot. So, for instance, after your quick-maturing radishes are harvested, one could plant bush beans and after their harvest, a late summer crop of lettuce.

radishes

Harvest radishes then plant a crop of beans or other quick maturing vegetable.

Another succession planting technique is to make several sowings of the same vegetable at regularly timed intervals. Typically salad greens are planted this way because realistically it is not that easy to use up 30 heads of lettuce in a single week so it would probably make more sense to have smaller, more manageable harvests maturing every week or two. I also use this method with my pickling cucumbers. Try as I might, I cannot seem to thwart those nasty, bacterial wilt-carrying cucumber beetles so I plant more cucumber seeds every 3 weeks or so and keep the newly germinated seedlings under a row cover until they start blossoming.

squash-4

Row covers are set over newly planted cucumber seeds and left on until blossoms form.

To make the most of space and increase yields, two or more crops can be planted simultaneously in the same bed. This works well with crops of different heights and maturation dates. Baby beets or early turnips can be planted in beds with Brussels sprouts; quick maturing lettuces or other salad greens with corn, or even at the base of trellised peas or beans.

Single plantings can be made of the same crop with different maturity dates. For instance, one can plant early, mid, and late season varieties of corn, potatoes or cabbages at one time for a longer, extended harvest.

Succession planting can be as easy or as intricate as you want it to be. For more complex plans, it is important to become familiar with the cultural requirements and varietal characteristics of the vegetables or herbs to be grown. When coming up with a plan, first make a list of all the crops you want to grow. Use gardening catalogs, books, websites and seed packages to find out important plant information like how early in spring the seeds or plants can go into the ground, the number of days from seed sowing or transplanting until harvest, space requirements, and the plant’s tolerance to frost.

Another consideration is how long the plants produce for. Are they plucked out of the ground, like carrots, providing an empty space to plant another seeding or transplants into? Will a secondary crop be produced after the main harvest? For instance, some species of broccoli will continue producing side shoots well into the fall. Kale and Swiss chard will continue to grow new leaves throughout the growing season.

kale & chard

                                            Kale and chard can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Indeterminate types of tomatoes will continue producing after the determinate ones are spent. Another consideration when growing tomatoes is how you plan to use them. Determinate varieties stop growing once they set flowers while indeterminate ones continue to grow foliage and produce flowers until stopped by frost or disease. So the determinate varieties will produce fruit that ripen all at once and this is very useful if the harvest is to be canned or frozen.

Tomatoes mulched with grass

Grow a selection of tomato varieties for a longer harvest window.

One also needs to take into account about when the soil can be worked in the spring, the approximate dates of the last and first frosts of the season, and about when the soil freezes and the harvest season comes to an end. Despite its relatively small size, there can be a two week or more difference in seasonal variation between southern and northern Connecticut. Typically, last frost is anticipated around mid-May and the first frost can occur anytime after mid-September. Most of us experience a growing season of at least 120 days.

It is a really good idea to compile this information into a planting chart or notebook. Then you can come up with initial planting dates, harvest times, and dates for planting your successive crops. Leave room for notes as pests and weather conditions may alter even the most carefully made plans. Also, comments from previous growing seasons are useful both when deciding what to grow again and also deviations from stated days to harvest.

notebook

                                                    Keep notes on varieties, planting dates and harvest times.

Keep in mind that the dates to anticipated harvest assume that seeds are sown or transplants set in the ground at the recommended planting time. With succession planting, seeds and plants are added throughout the growing season. Weather conditions and the angle of the sun greatly affect the rate at which vegetables grow and mature.

During cooler springs, pea seeds planted two weeks apart may mature within a week of each other because plants grow faster as the weather warms and the days lengthen. The opposite is true at the end of summer with cooler weather and shorter days. Cabbages which would typically mature in 50 or 60 days, may take 70 days to form a head as the number of hours of sunlight each day decreases. This is one reason why keeping records is important.

A few crops like radishes, carrots and spinach are always direct seeded into the garden but others like summer squash, cucumbers, lettuces, Chinese cabbages and kale can be either directly seeded or started in pots and transplanted into the garden. I have noticed a few local garden centers have been selling young transplants in late summer for second plantings. Why not try your hand at starting a few seeds in early August for transplanting into the garden to fill any areas left bare from harvest or mishap?

Maintaining a fertile garden soil and supplying plants with adequate water is crucial for successful succession plantings especially if tighter spacings and double croppings are being used. Any plants or seeds being planted during the heat of the summer will require extra watering.

Succession planting is a great way to make the most efficient use of garden space and also to provide a delicious, varying menu of vegetables for the dinner table. Give it a try and I am willing to bet it will open a whole new way of planning your home vegetable garden.  

Dawn P.