All my spinach and lettuce matured at once, then I had none. Why? What is succession sowing of seeds?
When spring fades into summer, in particular, cool-season vegetables—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:
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 list is here.
3. Compare the lists, and start making matchups. Examples:
- 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. Here’s the chart I use.
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. (The same repeat short-row sowing that stretches spring harvests can be repeated in later summer to get a long fall harvest, though sometimes different varieties of the same crops are more adapted to cooler months.)
- 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 or arugula you may have let stand a week too long to be salad material could serve up beautifully with a minute in the sauté pan.