In April, we sit on the precipice, waiting to plunge into the full and complete busy-ness that comes with early Spring. We know from experience that once things get going - and growing - it’s easy to be swept away and veer off from original garden intentions and plans.
We want to help you to stay the course this year; this will be the year your veggie garden feeds you abundantly, and consistently, all season!
Taking the time to succession plan now, while things are still slow, will help keep you on track when things get busy in May and June.
Succession planting is a fantastic and creative way to make the most out of your growing season and your garden space. Instead of planting once in late Spring and harvesting in late Summer, you can enjoy a steady, continuous harvest throughout the entire growing season!
Succession Planting Methods
You may have noticed these directions on some seed packets, such as lettuce: “plant every three weeks for a continuous harvest.” This refers to the staggered planting method - the most common type of succession planting, and a great place to start if this is all new to you.
If you plant a row or block every few weeks, you’ll have a mature crop ready to harvest at regular intervals. This way, you can enjoy a daily salad all summer, instead of a whole bunch of lettuce at once and then nothing.
Companion planting means interplanting more than one type of crop together in one space - often plants that are mutually beneficial, or good companions. This is so interesting, because the plants can support one another and help with things like pest and weed control. For example, basil and garlic can deter pests from tomatoes and lettuce can suppress weeds - acting as a living mulch - around a number of plants.
A wonderful example of this is the three sisters garden. Have you heard of this? Iroquois, Cherokee, and other First Nations people would plant corn, squash, and beans, together in one space. The pole beans would climb the corn as they grew and activate soil nitrogen needed by the corn and squash; the squash would sprawl, suppressing weeds and retaining moisture in the soil.
What a wonderful way to grow three nutritious crops, supporting one another, in a single space!
It is important to note that some plants do not like being planted too close together - like potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes, which are all from the nightshade family and all susceptible to early and late blight.
It can work well to plant crops with different maturity dates. For example, planting fast growing plants such as radish to mark the rows for crops that take longer to mature, like parsnips. This is a really efficient use of space!
Harvest & Sow
This means simply that you plant a new crop right after another has finished. You could follow early season crops, like peas, with quick growing crops, like lettuce or even carrots.
Even later in the season, you can still plant a second crop of something when you have an empty space. In this case, you’d want to choose crops that tolerate a light frost or can be eaten young, like kale. You could also plan to use season extenders, like mini hoop tunnels to extend the harvest well into the Fall and even early Winter.
You could also plant an cover crop, like annual winter rye, to rebuild and replenish your soil.
Plant different varieties of the same crop
With crops like potatoes, tomatoes, and a number of fruit, like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries - you could plant several varieties with different maturity dates - like early, mid, and late-season varieties - and enjoy a continuous harvest of the fruits and veggies you love most!
Tips for Successful Succession Planting
Consider your garden goals
The goals you set for your garden should determine your plan. Do you want a low maintenance garden? Companion planting and choosing varieties with different maturity dates may be a good choice for you.
Do you want a kitchen garden that provides fresh ingredients throughout the season? You’ll definitely want to stagger your plantings so that you have a continuous supply. You might also try companion planting to get even more yummy ingredients out of your space.
Will you be saving your own seeds this year? Be sure to plant enough of a variety so that you are pulling from a nice big gene pool - and so that you have enough to snack on too!
Also, consider how many people the garden needs to feed and what does everyone like to eat? There isn’t much point is growing kale from April - December if you’re the only one in your family who likes it (unless you simply enjoy growing it, in which case I’m sure your friends and the deer will benefit!)
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to planning for succession planting. It does take work, but it is so worth it!! Here are some things to consider when making your plan:
- Number of days to harvest - How many days from germination to harvest? This information is usually on the seed packets.
- Space requirements - how much space does each plant need to thrive? (Vertical gardening can help save space, like growing cucumbers up a trellis.)
- Stock up on seeds - if you’re planning to stagger some crops, like lettuce, make sure you buy enough seeds to plant every three weeks.
- Schedule and plan - use a calendar or spreadsheet to create a schedule with approximate harvest dates, sowing dates, planting dates, etc.
Get a head start
Starting seeds indoors under grow lights or on a windowsill can give plants a jump start in the garden! Start seeds indoors in early Spring so that they mature a bit earlier in the season. While they’re doing their thing in the garden, plant seeds indoors in Summer. Then, when space opens up in the garden, you can pop in a transplant instead of seeds and be weeks ahead and on your way to a productive Fall garden!
Start root crops early under floating row cover, as soon as the ground is workable. This thin blanket will offer your newly planted carrots, beets and radish a nice warm advantage. Using season extenders like cold frame, mini hoop tunnels, can also help you get things going earlier and keep your garden in production long after the first frost. (Check out our Guide to Season Extension)
Build Soil Health & Pest Control
When you’re planting multiple crops in the same space, either together or back to back, you are drawing a lot of nutrients from the soil. You will need to put nutrients back into the soil for healthy soil and healthy plants. Mulch heavily before, during, and after you plant and amend the soil between crops. You can also plant cover crops in empty spaces to build up nutrients and give the soil a rest.
Another reason you will need to plan a bit carefully is to allow for crop rotation. If you plants crops in the same family in the same place year after year, it makes your garden more vulnerable to pests and disease.
Remember, the key to a healthy, productive garden and nutritious food is healthy, chemical-free soil!
Happy growing - may the garden feed you well!