I knew about succession planting when I started the first Tomato Envy garden of 2014, but I wasn’t as motivated to practice it until the garden started burying me with too much food at once. I had no choice but to give some of it away because we couldn’t eat it or even preserve it quickly enough.
It’s one of the most common complaints among successful gardeners: too much food, too fast – a classic first-world problem. One of the ways to help deal with having too much of a good thing is to master succession planting.
Succession planting means staggering the timing of your plantings so you get a steady supply of crops over a longer period of time. Not all crops are good candidates for succession planting. For example, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers aren’t usually succession planted because they require a long growing season. It’s best to get them in the ground once the soil temperature is right and wait for the big harvest in summer. But, other crops mature more quickly over a short period of time and are perfect for succession planting.
- Lettuce – Lettuce is a cool weather crop that will bolt once the weather gets too warm. The best way to succession plant lettuce is to start some seedlings indoors about six weeks before your last frost date in spring. Then, on the same day you transplant your seedlings, usually a couple of weeks before the last frost date, direct sow some lettuce seeds in the garden. When your transplants eventually peter out, the plants that were direct sown should be getting ready to harvest. You can even do a third sowing about two weeks later for early summer salads.
- Beans – I dedicate eight square feet of garden space for bush beans each year. Consistent with Square Foot Gardening, I can sow nine bean seeds per square foot for a whopping total of 72 plants! I did this in 2014, all at once. We had way more beans than we could consume, especially since we also had a couple of climbing Chinese Red Noodle bean plants in the ground. The following year, I planted half of my bean seeds first and the other half two weeks later for a manageable but still bountiful harvest.
- Cucumbers – One healthy cucumber plant can yield several cucumbers every few days. If you can’t eat them fresh, garnish enough gin and tonics, or pickle them in time, some of them will go to waste. If you want more than one cucumber plant, stagger their planting two weeks apart.
- Radishes – These wonderful cool-season root vegetables mature quickly, some in as little as three weeks. They are small and can be planted close together. Try making two or three successive sowings, one week apart, for a steady harvest.
- Carrots – I plant nine carrots per square foot, and two square feet yields plenty of them at once for Mr. President and me. Carrots store well in the refrigerator, but I still prefer them as fresh as possible. Try sowing two crops of carrots, two weeks apart.
Remember too, that even with crops like tomatoes whose planting times are not usually staggered, you can plant a variety of them with different times to maturity. For example, some tomato varieties are more quick to mature and will offer a harvest early in the season while some don’t begin producing until very late in the summer. With proper planning, you can stretch your harvest over the entire season.
Succession planting is a valuable tool for managing the amount of food from your garden, minimizing potential food waste, and maintaining the gardener’s sanity. It can also help keep your garden from getting completely overgrown with too many crops maturing at once. It should be as much a part of your garden plan as crop rotation and which varieties to plant.
Have you succession planted any other crops and what were your results?