IT’S NOT JUST THE BEDS OF FADED SPRING PERENNIALS and gone-by flowering shrubs that need a tuneup around here (and maybe in your yard, too?). The vegetable garden is screaming for attention, as cool-season darlings—the spinach and broccoli raab and various other once-succulent things—stretch up in protest, saying “No more!” How to achieve a continuing harvest with some simple succession-sowing tactics, in words and a captioned slideshow:
My mathematical equation starts on paper, like this:
1. Make a list of what you want more of (or a first crop of, if it’s a warm-season thing or if you simply didn’t plant an earlier crop).
2. Make a list of things that have gone by or will soon, to assess real estate that you can utilize. My lists (yours may be very different):
Trying to Make Room Here For:
- Beans (pole and bush)
- Salad greens—repeat sowings
- Arugula—repeat sowings
- Summer and winter squash (I reserved a row for these, where cutting tulips, now faded, grow)
- Maybe one bush cucumber plant?
- Kales and collards
- Tomatoes of not in yet (and peppers and eggplants if you grow them; I don’t)
Space Coming Available Here From:
- Peas (two long trellises full)
- Asian greens
- Garlic (not until later in summer, about mid-July or so, but I’m keeping it in mind for a fall prospect…maybe the late peas?)
- Pea trellises might be a good place for pole beans (or other vining crops like squash or cukes)…but then I might want to plant fall peas. Hmmmm…which do I want more?
- Sometimes I place my young tomatoes just alongside the peas, knowing I’ll rip the peas out a few weeks after the tomatoes go in, but before they need all the space. Those years, I yank the pea trellis and insert tomato cages.
4. Also look for marginal spaces you can cheat by a few inches—or a foot. You’d be surprised how much produce you can pack into beds if they contain well-loved soil rich in compost. For instance, between your tomatoes and the path, hanging over the edge even, why not put parsley, the next generation of beets and carrots, cilantro, salad greens, or even a row of bush beans? I do.
5. As you start calculating, also study a “succession sowing” chart for your area, perhaps from your cooperative extension’s website or an organic-farming association. Identify how long you can wait to sow what and still get a harvest by frost time. My favorite one appropriate to my general region is from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (a portion of which I reprinted above; to get the whole amazing thing, for every sowing or transplanting chore March through October, click here).
6. Remember the basic “best practices” of vegetable-garden care to maximize yields:
- Plant short rows every other week for a sustained but manageable supply of salads, greens, bush beans, cilantro.
- Keep picking! Continual harvesting delays a plant’s instinct to “bolt” or set seed.
- Weed to reduce competition for moisture, light and nutrients (asparagus, onions and garlic, in particular, really suffer with competition).
- Remember which way the sun travels in summer, and don’t accidentally put someone who’ll be small on the shady side of someone who’ll be tall (unless it’s intentional, such as to shade summer salad).
- Water deeply on a regular basis, drenching the entire root zone. (Note: With a sprinkler, this takes many hours. Soaker hoses or drip emitters are more direct if properly placed in beds.)
- There are more tips in the slideshow below (like hilling your potatoes!).
7. Waste not! Many “gone-by” greens (so long as they’re not positively woody) are tasty cooked. Mustard, for instance, and many other elements in a “spicy mesclun” salad mix you may have let stand a week too long to be salad material any longer could serve up beautifully with a minute in the sauté pan. (Some can also go into a pot of vegetable stock for the freezer, like this.)
Don’t just toss the arugula that’s started to bolt; have you ever wilted it in garlic and olive oil that contains a chopped tomato or a little tomato sauce and a few red pepper flakes, then tossed it all into pasta, with some grated cheese for good measure? (An old friend handed this combination down to me, as his mother had to him; I smiled when I saw it’s also a formal “recipe,” and if you prefer such details, try this link.)
Or make a “pie” with the last of the spinach and other green, leafy things. Sauté some onion and garlic in olive oil, wilt the greens right in the same pan when the onion’s tender, crumble in feta (or your choice of cheese), and whisk then add some eggs. Bake in a 350-degree oven in an oiled baking dish, with extra oil drizzled on top. (More recipes for handling the harvest are here. Or you could make an egg-ier “greens frittata” like this.)
Dishes like those simple ones make vegetable-garden tuneup time like its own special harvest season, with a delicious reward for the work, and the promise of more to come. Onward. Well…not until after you view the slideshow, though:
Click on the first thumbnail to start the slides, then toggle from image to image using the arrows beside each caption. Enjoy.