Anyone who plants a vegetable garden wants to benefit by yielding as much as possible.
Those who plant large gardens often find themselves covered with dirt and sweat, questioning whether it’s really worth it. People with smaller gardens can feel the same way when they only get a small taste of something mouth-wateringly delicious. But with a little planning, succession planting can boost home-garden production.
Sometimes called multiple cropping, succession planting refers to methods used to increase and extend crop harvest. These methods, which are often used by small-scale commercial growers, maximize the use of garden space and effective planting and harvest timing.
There are several approaches. The method you can best use right now is also the one that I see most widely used in the North Country. It involves planting two or more crops in sequence.
For example, in many gardens, vegetables with intermediate maturing times that were planted early (beets, carrots, turnips, peas, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi) are now being, or have been, harvested. Once those harvests are completed, standard gardeners will leave that space unplanted. Succession gardeners will immediately plant a fast-growing crop, such as head or leaf lettuce, spinach, carrots, kale or radishes in that space.
Or they may transplant vegetable plants that have been growing in containers up to now into the garden. The crops most widely chosen for transplanting are Cole crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, all crops that will not be damaged and whose quality may actually be improved by exposure to frost.
Knowledgeable gardeners choose early maturing varieties, which helps assure a bountiful late-season harvest. Catalog descriptions and seed-packet instructions should provide information such as days to harvest, spacing requirements and whether or not the variety is frost tolerant.
Cool-season crops are often pre-sprouted for late-season planting. To pre-sprout seeds, moisten a white paper towel so it’s wet but not dripping. Without crowding the seeds, sprinkle them over half of the towel and cover them with the other half. Be sure the seeds make good contact with the towel.
Fold again as needed until the towel fits into a zip-lock sandwich baggie. Keep the seeds cool. Inspect daily to make sure the towel stays moist and to see if the seeds have sprouted. So they won’t be damaged, transplant seeds into the garden as soon as they’ve sprouted, before roots have a chance to get tangled or grow into the towel. Be sure mold doesn’t form inside the baggie. (Note that this method also works when used to germinate heat-loving plants in the cool of early spring. Optimal germination temperatures should be on seed packets and in catalogs.)
Another approach commonly used for lettuce and other salad greens is planting at timed intervals. The result is a continuous harvest extended over a period of weeks or months.
Companion planting, or intercropping, is a third approach. This entails growing two or more crops that will not compete with each other for space, nutrients, water or sunlight in the same space at the same time. Often, a deep-rooted crop is planted with a shallow rooted one or a crop that will grow tall is planted with a shorter, shade-tolerant one. By intercropping, you can achieve a much higher yield than if you were to plant just one. When properly done, the results will be plants that are thriving in a garden that is aesthetically pleasing.
A perfect and perhaps prehistoric example is the Native American three sisters; corn, pole beans and squash. These three plants, when grown together, form a healthy ecosystem of insects and soil organisms. As the plants mature, the beans put nitrogen into the soil, which greatly benefits the corn. The corn provides a support upon which the beans can grow. The squash provides ground cover, shading the soil and retaining moisture.
Together they promote soil conservation, deter predators and help prevent erosion. From a dietary standpoint, the gardener harvests corn, a grain abundant in carbohydrates; beans, which provide protein; and squash, which is rich in vitamin A.
Being observant and taking notes will help with making adjustments. Keep in mind, though, that the varieties you choose, soil quality and weather will all affect plant growth and maturation.
Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy; agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Phone 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.