Growing Vegetables Through the Seasons With Succession Planting

Learn how grow your own food almost year-round with these simple instructions for garden design.

| November 12, 2012

Want to eat fresh, home-grown salads in winter? Nova Scotia gardener and author Niki Jabbour says you can do it — and put an end to the first frost being the end of your growing season. In her book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, she explains how to stretch the growing seasons through gardening tips for succession planting, building cold frames and planning crops to get maximum yields. In this excerpt, Jabbour gives instructions and tips for succession planting, an important aspect of longer-season growing. 

Buy this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.

The goal of succession planting is simple — to enjoy a continuous and uninterrupted supply of fresh vegetables. This type of planting is particularly important in small backyard gardens, where space is at a premium. Many of my favorite crops for succession planting are those that thrive in the cool and cold weather of spring and fall. They enjoy an extended growing season, unlike the warm season crops, which have a very specific window of cultivation between the frost dates.

Succession planting starts with a little planning. Make a list of what you want to grow, and then write in the expected planting dates and the number of days to harvest. This will tell you how long it will take from the time you plant until you can expect to start harvesting the crop. Because some crops, like leaf lettuce, can produce over an extended period, it’s also helpful to know the general length of the expected harvest. Once the crop is finished, it’s time to replant.

In addition to creating an endless harvest, practicing succession planting can help you outwit certain insect pests by avoiding their prime season. For example, if squash vine borers are a problem in your garden, planting a second crop of zucchini in early summer, after the adults have finished laying their eggs, will help ensure that you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. To put succession planting to work for you, keep the following tenets in mind.

Keep on Seeding

One of the easiest ways to practice succession planting is simply to keep on seeding. This technique works best with quick-growing vegetables, like lettuce, arugula, radishes, and bush beans, which can be planted every few weeks. Continual sowing will produce a staggered harvest — that is, your whole crop isn’t ready at the same time. After all, who needs to have a whole packet of radish seed mature at once? For a family of four, it makes more sense to sow about 20 radish seeds every 2 weeks. Once radishes reach maturity, they start to lose their quality rather quickly. By planting in succession, you’ll be able to harvest perfectly mature radishes for months.

In order to keep on seeding, you’ll need to leave space in your garden bed for subsequent plantings. In our garden, a 4-by-4-foot bed is often divided into six mini rows, each measuring about 8 inches wide and planted right up next to each other. No wasted space! I can sow a mini row of leaf lettuce or mesclun mix every 2 weeks for a continuous crop from early spring to late fall. By the time your second and third mini rows are ready to harvest, the first is exhausted and ready for the compost heap. Work an inch of compost into the original row and then replant with more leaf lettuce, or another crop of your choice.

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