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How to Grow More in Your Garden with Succession Plantings | Organic Gardening 365
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How to Grow More Food in Your Organic Garden with Succession Plantings

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organic lettuceOne of the most frustrating things when I had my own full garden for the first time 20 years ago was learning how much of everything to plant and when to plant it.

Boy did I make some mistakes!

I didn’t understand the big picture of how my planting schedule needed to intertwine with the seasons.

Oh sure, I would wait until the last frost had passed before I planted my tomatoes.  And common sense kept me on track for the most part.

But for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how my friend Anne always got more out of her garden than I did.  She was still harvesting spinach when mine was long gone.

I had grown up helping in my grandpa’s garden, but it was usually just a weekend or two during the summer when we went to visit.

And I had a few things growing here and there in my parents’ back yard when I growing up.

But I never got the perspective of planning and growing a full-size garden for the whole season.

I’ve always loved learning new ideas, especially when it comes to gardening.  So fortunately, it didn’t take me very long to figure out Anne’s “secret.”

She didn’t plant all her spinach at one time.  Who knew that was “legal”?  Certainly not me.

Well, I quickly put two and two together and realized I could get a lot more from my garden by planting things in succession.  Now, you may have been doing this for years, but it was new to me.

So in case you’re not familiar with the idea let me share my OG 365 Timeless Gardening Tip #7:  Use “succession” (or multiple) plantings of the same crop throughout the season to extend the harvest of your favorite veggies, etc. and reap a bigger harvest.

What is succession planting?

What would happen if you planted all your lettuce for the whole summer at one time?  Of course, if you planned carefully, you could choose lettuce varieties that matured at different times and you should definitely do that.

But even then, most of your lettuce would all be ready to eat pretty much at the same time.  I don’t know about you, but I can only eat so much salad.

When you “succession plant” your lettuce, for example, whether you start you own seeds inside or set out transplants, you would set out the first transplants about 4 weeks before the last spring frost.  Then two weeks later, plant some more.  Two weeks later, plant a few more.  You get the idea.

Keep this up until early summer when the heat, longer days, warmer nights and less rain cause your lettuce to bolt—send up flower stalks.  If you are saving your own seeds, you may want a few plants to bolt and go to seed.

But the flowering and seed production process takes energy from the plant and makes the lettuce taste bitter.  Not good for your taste buds!

When things start to cool off at the end of the summer, plant some more lettuce every two weeks until about 4 weeks before the first frost.  Even after a light frost, you’ll still be able to harvest some delicious, crisp lettuce.

This succession planting approach works beautifully with lots of your favorite vegetables:  many greens, bush beans, corn, beets, radishes, carrots, and a whole lot more.

How to schedule it all

How on earth are you going to figure out how to schedule everything?

That’s what your Gardener’s Journal is for.  You should already have all your research done on all the things you plan to grow.  I would suggest making a chart and having everything in one place.

You could even play around with Google documents: www.docs.google.com and create a spreadsheet with all your information.

One of the best resources with most of the work already done for you is in the one of my favorite gardening books, Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

In fact, forget making your own charts, just go get Mel’s book.  It is worth its weight in basil seeds.

Make sure you get the new, second edition.  The whole book is great, but the charts are fabulous.  It’s a series of charts called “Planting Schedule for a Continuous Harvest.”  He has other good charts too.

Of course, you may want to still make your own charts with planting times, etc. for the specific varieties you want to grow.  But you’ll find Square Foot Gardening incredibly helpful.

Let’s assume you love radishes


organic radishes

They grow pretty darn fast and are usually ready to harvest just four weeks after sowing the seed in the ground.

I’ve got a gardening friend, Allen, who loves radishes, but the first time he planted them way back when, he sowed all his radish seeds at the same time.  When they were done, they were done.

No more radishes.

He could have enjoyed those crispy little treats for weeks and weeks.  But he didn’t really understand the succession planting concept then.

(I hope you won’t make the same mistake Allen did.)

So here’s the plan: three weeks before your last frost, march yourself outside and plant some radish seeds.  These will be ready to eat in about a month.

Two weeks later (about a week before the last frost), plant some more.  Keep this up every two weeks for another month or so and you will have radishes on a regular basis.

Rinse and repeat in the fall.

About eight weeks before the first frost, plant some more radishes.  Then, you got it, in two weeks plant some more.  Then one final planting two weeks later and you’ll have fresh radishes from your own garden through the first frost.

Now would you rather grow your own or go buy them at the store?  We all know the answer to that.

Other varieties

With some things like kale and chard, you can plant one crop and continue to harvest throughout the summer, just taking a few of the bottom leaves and letting the plants continue to produce.

Of course, if you want “baby” kale and chard, you will need to succession plant them so you will have the young, tender greens that everyone seems to go bonkers over.  Personally, I prefer the mature leaves and their robustness.

Plant less to get more

Now this may seem obvious but when you “succession plant” your crops, don’t plant as much each time.  If you’re going to have four plantings, two weeks apart in the spring, then each time plant one fourth of the total amount you want to grow for the entire season.

You’re actually getting more food from your garden than if you had planted something just once.  A single planting has to be smaller because you wouldn’t be able to eat in two weeks the same amount of food you grew in eight weeks (four, two week succession plantings).

I hope that makes sense.

This may take some experimenting to get it right.  If you grow too much, you can preserve it or share it.  If you don’t grow enough, see what else you can plant in the mean time.  Your garden is always a work in progress.

When not to succession plant

There may be times when succession planting is NOT the right solution.

Tomatoes do not lend themselves to succession planting.  Once they start producing, they usually keep it up til the end of the summer.  Unless you didn’t keep them watered and they croaked.

The only time you might plant a second crop of tomatoes is if you loose your plants to blight or some other disease.  In that case, plant them as far away from the first ones as possible.

But let’s say you want to can a whole lot of tomatoes.  In this case, you either need a whole lot of tomato vines to give you enough produce to make canning worth the effort.  You don’t want to get the kitchen messy for just 3 jars of tomatoes.

In this case, you want the opposite of succession planting.  You want all those tomatoes to ripen at the same time.  In this case, I would plant some determinate tomato vines.  They don’t keep growing; they only get so big and most of the fruit ripens at the same time.

If you’re going to put up a lot of corn to eat during the winter, plant your corn all at the same time.  It will all be ready to harvest about the same time and you can process it all together instead of in little batches.

Now I would still recommend succession planting some of your corn so you will have those juicy kernels to sink your teeth into for a longer period of time during the corn eating season.

So use your creativity and see how you can spread your harvest over the spring, summer and fall.

To sum up my advice: Do your research. Know your plants and your needs.  Experiment and be creative. Trust your intuitions and instincts.  Learn from your successes and “failures” and go forward.

And write it all down in your Gardener’s Journal. Now, where have you heard that before?

And what about winter?

Is there a way to extend your harvest into the cold months and get even more from your garden?  Absolutely.

In the next article in this Timeless Gardening Tip series, I’ll share some ideas about extending your harvest into the winter months on both ends of the growing season.

That’s it for now.  I’d love to hear how you have used succession planting in your garden.  And if you have any questions or comments, please share them below.

To your garden’s productivity,

James Early
Organic Gardening 365
Dedicated to helping you get the most out of your organic garden all year long
P. S. For the complete series of OG 365 Timeless Gardening Tips, click here.

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