How to Use Succession Planting to Get Even More Produce Out of Your Edible Garden
The trick to keeping your backyard veggie plot at maximum productivity throughout the growing season is simple. It's all about timing when you plant so there's always something to harvest.
Spring isn't the only season for planting your veggies, especially if you use succession planting to plan out your garden. Once your cool-season vegetables like radishes and lettuce are ready for harvesting, you can use their now-empty space to start warm-season crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. As these plants are winding down toward fall, young lettuce, kale, and broccoli can take their place. Another way to use succession planting, especially if you're a beginner, is to stagger your planting dates for just one crop. Instead of planting all your radishes at once and having way more than you can eat ready for harvest, for example, plant just a few, then add a few more two weeks later for staggered harvest times. A planting area that's never idle can produce quite a bit of food this way!
How to Make Succession Planting Work
The key to succession planting is knowing what you want to grow, and having your seeds (or seedlings) ready at the right time. Late spring or early summer is the best time to start succession planting, because that's usually when you'll be ready to harvest your first round of produce from spring.
For example, peas are a cool-season crop that are usually planted right away in early spring so they're ready to harvest before summer arrives. If you have a row or two of peas planted in your vegetable garden, you'll know at the beginning of the season that they'll ready to pick by the end of spring. Then, you can plan for a summer crop to take over the space that your pea plants were using at the beginning of the year. Once your summer crop ripens, you can harvest and replace it with another cool-season crop, such as kale.
In order to make the most of your growing season, it's good to have a plan of what you want to grow in your vegetable garden for the year. Before you plant anything, do some research on when to plant each crop in your area, whether you can sow the seeds directly or if you need to start them indoors (which can take 12 weeks or more before they're ready to transplant outside), and about when each veggie will be ready to harvest. That way, if you know you want one row of your garden dedicated to peas, then cucumbers, then kale, you can have the seeds or seedlings for each ready to plant as soon as you harvest the previous crop.
If you're new to succession planting, try it with just one crop for your first year. Spinach is a good succession crop because it grows quickly and is usually ready to harvest after just 3-6 weeks. Instead of planting rows upon rows of spinach and harvesting heaps of it, start with just a few plants. Then, every week or two, sow a few more seeds. If you continuously plant it throughout early fall, you'll have a few fresh spinach plants to harvest every week until the first frost. This method of succession planting is easier to plan and keep track of than rotating crops, and it'll give you an almost constant supply of fresh greens.
Enrich Your Soil Throughout the Growing Season
Soil that produces a steady flow of produce over several months needs extra attention, because a succession of crops inevitably depletes necessary nutrients. They must be replaced to maintain production over the entire season (plus an extended season). Mix an organic, slow-acting fertilizer into the soil when you first prepare the bed. This will provides a large portion of the nutrients needed for plant growth over several weeks.
It's also a good idea to keep enriching the soil over the growing season. You don't want to overdo it with fertilizer (it can make plants grow too quickly and lose some of their flavor), but using an organic liquid fertilizer once a week or adding compost to your soil can help keep it rich in nutrients for all of the produce you grow.
Clean Up Your Garden Between Each Crop
Especially if you're replacing one row of plants with something completely new after harvesting, you'll need to do a little clean up work before you can plant your next veggie. Between each succession planting, add more organic fertilizer or compost to the soil. Completely clear out your harvested plants by pulling up the roots and disposing of any remaining stems and foliage. Try to get old plants pulled out as soon as possible after they're done producing so you can plant your next round of crops right away and give them plenty of time to mature.
Best Cool-Season Vegetables for Succession Planting
Cool-season vegetables can handle the chill of early spring and late fall. They fade rapidly when the warmth arrives in early summer but most can handle a light frost or two at the beginning and end of the growing season. Vegetables that don't mind being chilly make it possible for you to have two crops a year: One in spring, another in fall. Often the second crop, at the onset of winter, is the one that you're happy to put into the freezer to last you through the colder season. Start your succession planting with one of these cool-season crops in the early spring, then finish out the year with another one in fall.
Warm-Season Crops for Succession Planting
After harvesting your first round of cool-season crops at the end of spring, replace them with these fruits and veggies that thrive during the summer. After harvesting your summer produce, go back to cool-season plants for the end of summer and beginning of fall.