By now, you’ve planted your warm-season vegetable garden, and are just waiting for the harvests that give you fresh goodies for summer salads and sandwiches.
Don’t stop with just those first crops. With some careful planning and a little more planting, you can have fresh produce almost year-round, according to John Fendley of Sustainable Seed Co., a supplier of organic heirloom seeds, and other edible gardening experts.
A tried-and-true technique called “succession planting” allows you to make the most of a small garden plot. It’s similar to another small-space gardening concept called “square-foot gardening” because you continually replace old crops with new crops, harvesting a lot from a little.
Before you plant, plan what you like to eat and buy seeds and transplants based on that list – lettuces and onions for salads, squash and zucchini for grilling and cantaloupes and watermelons for snacks.
Next, figure out how many days each vegetable needs before it matures and is ready for harvest, recommends Fendley.
Then, cut the days in half or a third – and you’ll know when to replant so you have two or three harvests instead of one bumper crop that overwhelms you. Create a chart or put the planting dates on a calendar in your gardening shed or garage, Fendley advises.
The key is replanting.
“It’s so simple but many gardeners don’t do it,” Fendley says.
“For example, every 10 to 14 days you can seed radishes, plant a few seeds at a time, not the whole packet, and you’ll have crisp radishes continually from spring to late fall instead of leaving them in the ground to get tough and woody.
“Instead of planting one long row or bed of lettuce, consider interplanting lettuces with longer growers like onions or carrots. Two weeks later, sow more lettuces between the longer growers, and so on until the weather gets too warm for lettuce. Since the plants mature in one to two months you'll get a continuous harvest of lettuce.”
Good candidates for succession planting, according to Fendley, include:
- Greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale in spring and again in fall. Plant Swiss chard after lettuces are done.
- Once summer’s sweet corn is done, plant broccoli transplants for a fall harvest.
- Plant vine-type cucumbers early, followed by bush cucumbers a month later.
- Directly sow seeds of carrots, radishes, beets, bush beans and snap peas into the garden every few weeks in June and July.
When you shop for seeds and transplants, look closely at the maturing dates, choosing a variety of short, mid and long-maturing types. Crops also continue longer on a natural basis if you harvest regularly.
You can learn more about intensive gardening methods – including succession planting, interplanting, raised beds and vertical gardening -- through Virginia Cooperative Extension at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-335/426-335.html.
The Sustainable Seed Company’s website -- http://sustainableseedco.com -- also features helpful information.
Posted by Kathy Van Mullekom; firstname.lastname@example.org