vegetable-garden tuneup: make room for more

Raised bed of potato plantsIT’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 early lettuces 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 around June, 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. In early to mid-June my lists looked like the one below; yours may be very different. My July and August list–for my latest sowings of all–is at at the bottom of the story.

trying to make room here for (as of mid-june*):

  • Beans (pole and bush)
  • Salad greens—repeat sowings
  • Arugula—repeat sowings
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Chard
  • 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)
  • (*For last-ditch crops for July and August sowings, see the end of the story)

space coming available here from:

  • Peas (two long trellises full) by mid-July
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Endive
  • Asian greens
  • Garlic (about mid-July or so, but I’m keeping it in mind for a fall prospect…maybe the late peas?)

Peas ready to harvest.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. 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!).

kale fritatta7. 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” (like the fritatta, above) 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.

8. A P.S., sort of: Nonstop seedlings! Most experts–both vegetable farmers and pro gardeners like my friend Lee Reich–say that the greatest productivity and efficiency comes from having transplants on hand to plug in all season long, not just in spring. Watch Lee’s video above, or read more about that in the second half of the chat we had one spring about growing from seed in general.

my ‘never-too-late’ list: my july and august sowings

WHEN I GET TO MY latest sowings, in July and August, after the longest day has passed and the days slowly get shorter, I try to adjust for the fact that things grow differently than in spring. A former High Mowing Organic Seeds staffer turned farmer, Katie Spring, told me to think like this:

“What I learned at High Mowing is what we call ‘The Fall Factor,'” she said. “As the days grow shorter, you add time to the days to maturity on the seed packet. If you’re going based on your first frost date, you can basically add two weeks to the time that crop will take to reach maturity.”

With a 60-day something-or-other, you’d basically make it like a 75-day crop, and count back that long from frost. It’s hard to get it exact, says Katie–but we try, and use The Fall Factor as a guideline. Both Katie and I like to err on the side of maybe starting things a little bit earlier, but not so early that things start to bolt in the high-summer heat.

Select varieties that work with that in mind. My latest list of all, for the fall garden, includes direct-sown things and also some I started earlier in flats, in anticipation. And again: don’t forget to leave room for the garlic! The list:

  • Arugula, from 21 to 40 days (baby or mature leaf size)
  • Bush beans, about 60 days (have insulating fabric ready if early cold threatens)
  • Beets, for roots and beet greens
  • Braising greens mix (mustard, kale, collards, Asian greens…)
  • Broccoli raab, about 40 days
  • Broccoli (60 days from transplants started 15 weeks before first frost.) Try ‘Piracicaba,’ from Hudson Valley Seed Library or Turtle Tree Seed, or the leaf broccoli Spigarello from Johnny’s.
  • Cabbage (60 days from transplants started about 15 weeks before first frost) or Napa cabbage (about 10 days faster)
  • Carrots (a storage kind like ‘Rolanka’ from Turtle Tree, plus some smaller types for fall eating)
  • Cauliflower (60 days from transplants started about 14 weeks before frost)
  • Chard
  • Chicory, endive, radicchio
  • Cilantro
  • Collards, about 60 days but nice as a baby green
  • Daikon (60 days) and other faster radishes
  • Dill
  • Kale, about 60 days but nice in half that time as a baby green
  • Lettuce, leaf and head type and mesclun mix, about 21-30 days to first cutting
  • Mustard greens, about 45 days (faster as baby greens to spice a salad)
  • Peas; shelling, sugar snap, and snowpea type; and also a row or block of thickly sown peas for harvest as pea shoots for salad, when they’re 3 or 4 inches tall
  • Radish
  • Scallions and other hardy bunching onions, for fall use and to overwinter
  • Spinach
  • Squash, summer variety, fast bush type (I sowed a 48-day variety July 1)
  • Turnips, 40-50 days, faster for greens; rutabaga
  1. Patricia says:

    Beautiful vegetable garden. What is the story with garlic? I have gotten conflicting information. I purchased garlic bulbs for late summer harvest but I keep hearing that you should plant the bulbs in the fall. Can you clarify what the difference is?

    1. Sandy Lentz says:

      Treat garlic like tulips…plant in the fall (area green sprouts may shoe) grow on the following summer, harvest when the leaves start to yellow and fall over (lodge).

  2. Michele says:

    Hi! I just love your website Margaret! I have learned so much here and you have helped guide my garden fun. We’re almost in the same zone – I’m 5a – so it’s neat to see what’s in your garden and then I look for it around here. Nice shout out to Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA.) Just visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay – so wonderful. I don’t get quite enough sun in my yard for a robust vegetable garden so I am constantly daydreaming about how/when/where I’m going to have one! Also, at one point you mentioned you have a June birthday so best wishes for a Happy Birthday!
    Michele in Maine

  3. robin says:

    Thanks so much for all this perfectly timely info Margaret! I was just lamenting my gone-too-soon spinach and wondering what to plant in its place. Now I realize I can still cook up the bitter remains in types of recipes I love…and I really appreciate the guidance on how to keep the garden producing throughout the summer!

  4. dd says:

    OMG, Look @ all your peas!!! Mine have been in a while and have done very little. Same w my cranberry beans, not to mention something sheared many of them off. Looks like cut worms? I went around and put tubes around ALL of them!! Lots of holes in leaves to. Organic gardening is not easy!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Michelle. Mine finally took off the last two weeks, I swear; we have been very dry, and I’ve been watering more, and then we had bursts of heat again. I bet you will catch up very soon. :)

      Welcome, DD. I always plant enough for everyone, me and the creatures (desirable and undesirable ones). And most of all I am maniacal about the soil, dumping loads of compost into each bed each year, and adding some all-natural organic fertilizer (dried meals and manures) every other year, typically, too. I swear the raised beds are also a boost to early, productive crops; they warm up fast and really drain well.

      See you both again soon.

  5. Claudette says:

    Thanks for the ideas; just weeded out my onion patch today. Have had lots of rain in my area and can’t seem to keep up with all the WEEDS! Any suggestions?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Claudette. Other than mulch, not much else to do…and with the onions I don’t want to bury them under too much of anything at this point, or at least not right up against the plants. We have had little rain, but somehow plenty of weeds are managing to sprout anyhow. :) See you soon again, I hope.

  6. Growing vegetables says:

    Thanks Margaret, I am also facing the same problem like Claudette. If I use hot water will it cause any long time problem to the soil?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Growing Vegetables. You can’t pour hot water between desired plants like in your onion bed without risking killing off the wanted plants, right? I use boiling water in cracks and crevices in the patio and so on, where weeds appear, but not in among plants I’m cultivating. Also, boiling water will of course kill off some soil life — meaning inhabitants that it touches, whether earthworms or (I suspect) even essential microbes. I just put weeds, preferably when they are small, or space things so I can cultivate in long row (with a hoe). And I mulch.

  7. Joyce says:

    Thanks so much for all your GREAT information. I can’t get enough! I love reading about gardens, vegtables and everything else you provide here on your blog. I learning a little something every time I read. Thanks

  8. Kristina says:

    Wow! Your garden is way ahead of mine! I didn’t get mine planted until the end of May but it will catch up with the heat of summer! I’m always “scrounging” for more room in the garden when I think I need to plant “just one more thing!”

  9. Mike Silva says:

    My wife and I have been growing vegetables for quite a few years and always had the problem of having too much of the same item ready for harvest at the same time. This year we spend some time pre-planning a system of successive platings.

    Things are working out rather nicely even though a few small mistakes were made. Family and friends are not getting as much as they are used to this year but we are much happier with a nice variety of choices over an extended period..

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mike. I know exactly what you mean; this takes a long time and a lot of restraint — not to plant a whole row of something, just because you have a six-pack of plants or a whole packet of seeds. I have really begun to tailor my plantings to make best use of every space growing just what I can use/freeze/can etc. I actually am enjoying the puzzle of figuring out how to get everything I want in the right amounts with no waste (and not getting it just right, but better than in the earlier years). See you soon again.

  10. Cary says:

    Thanks Margaret, excellent advice as always. I’m in the process of laying out my first New England veg garden and have a nice large 20 by 40 foot plot we are currently fencing to keep out Rudolph and Thumper. I wonder how wide are your paths? I want to minimize them, but wonder if they need to be any wider than my wheelbarrow. Please let me know your thoughts on path width and raised bed sizes. Thanks so much!

  11. Maude Ciardi says:

    We have had so much rain in Ohio that I haven’t started the garden yet. I share a garden with my son-in-law. It’s a small garden but I really enjoy it. Last year I had a problem with my zucchinni and cucumbers getting a worm and then it died. That is a first for me. I had ordered Italian seeds and was so excited , only reaping a few of each. This year will be better! We need some much needed sunshine in the state of Ohio.
    Thanks for your web site. It is very infomative.You do a marvalous job.
    Maude Ciardi

  12. Stephanie says:

    Oh, I so wish I could get this information for Florida. Everything is so different here and I have been experimenting for a few years but I feel like I am missing something sometimes. I have a bumper crop this year and am having trouble keeping up with the tomatoes, basil, zucchini and butternut squash but as they are dying down it feels wrong to leave the spots empty because of the heat and wait a couple of months for to start anew.

  13. Teresa says:

    Sigh. Your garden looks so neat and so lush.

    Mine….well my fence went up last July. It’s a much bigger space than I currently need BUT I didn’t want to outgrow it –figured it was better to have the fence guy build a bigger fence from the get go.

    But to get the weeds under control is quite the endeavor especially when you have a large space that’s been cleared. Plus I am a weekend gardener and plus I have a 2 year old!

    I wasn’t so diligent this spring about adding compost to my soil before I sowed the spinach and the greens and I wonder if this is why they are puny and/or non existent? The mache in particular didn’t even germinate and I did 2 different sowings from 2 different seed packets in 2 different locations. I know spinach likes alkaline soil–mine is 5.6 so maybe I should have added lime?

    Your photos are an inspiration!

  14. Barb says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Thanks for this great post! I have followed your blog for quite sometime now, yet this is my first comment. This is my first year using raised beds for a garden. I am amazed at everything you can fit into them. Yet, I do have a question……Can you transplant peppers? I started tomatoes with the peppers….not realizing the tomatoes are just soaking up all the sunshine while my peppers have only grown very slightly. I should have know better on this as I have gardened for years but never in a raised bed before. Thanks so much.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Barb. I think it’s better to move them than to let them struggle where they are. But how big are they now? Anyhow, my theory on this is it’s not ideal to transplant again buit if they are languishing, how much worse can it be? I would plan to move them when a rainy day is forecast, maybe just as it begins — not in blazing sun/heat.

  15. Dahlink says:

    I just finished reading “A Rich Spot of Earth : Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello” by Peter J. Hatch–a fascinating read. Jefferson’s advice about successive sowing is summed up by his advice to sow a “thimblefull” of lettuce seed every Monday during the growing season. I was comforted by the author’s conjecture that Jefferson’s vegetable beds were not well weeded (not enough people to deal with all that growing space) and there was never enough water at Monticello (a disadvantage to living at the top of a mountain!) Jefferson grew many vegetables considered very exotic at the time. People knew of peppers, for example, but they were generally grown as ornamentals in the flower garden. And the soil wasn’t as fertile as Jefferson thought–lots of heavy red clay. His answer to any garden problem (pests, poor yield) was to lay on more manure. A fascinating book, with wonderful photographs–highly recommended!

  16. Cathy says:

    I want to know what I can do so mildew doesn’t over power the green/yellow squash I try to grow? Every year for 10 years the mildew overpowers the plants even before there’s any sign of squash. I’ve tried everything: at the first sign of mildew I pick those leaves, I’ve tried a milky wash, I’ve made sure they are far enough apart so there’s air circulation, I’ve planted in different places in the garden and this year I’ve tried fencing them so they will grow vertical and here comes the mildew…..many people I know don’t have this problem and they don’t do anything different than what I do. In fact I’ve even had them buy the plants for me where they get theirs and still mildew.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Cathy. Like other fungal issues, it’s easier to try to prevent/postpone its occurrence than to fix it once it begins. Full sun is essential, and with your history it’s also critical to plant “resistant” varieties only, so you may need to start from seed yourself. I think you can find variety names starting at this page on the Cornell website. The best rundown of organic tactics for dealing with it that I could find for you is on this page.

      Plants grown in less than full sun are going to be more susceptible, by the way. And I assume you don’t compost the infected plants but destroy them (like in the trash)?

  17. Jeannette M. Wilson says:

    Get a circle hoe (http://www.circlehoe.com/) to weed in between onions. This hoe is sometimes out of stock-it is handmade by one man-but there is nothing better for gently weeding in between (and under the leaves) of closely planted rows. I used the long handled version for the first time with my Spring planted onions. Most of the time I would just grab the hoe first thing in the morning and quickly skim it between the onions…it only takes a few minutes to do a twelve ft. by 3 ft. bed of onions!

  18. JessB says:

    Great post. Succession planting is always one of the top reminders I have for myself at the end of every growing season for the next.

  19. KC says:

    I’m trying to get up the energy to start working on my fall vegetable garden. I want to grow a quick crop of cucumbers after the garlic comes out, successions of beets and lettuce, fall carrots and overwintering purple sprouting broccoli, claytonia, mache, chervil, cilantro and mizuna, garlic of course, and finally cover crops of crimson clover and phacelia in any empty spaces left in September. It might be overly ambitious but my goal is to have every inch of space filled year-round.

  20. Louise says:

    Because I have filled my raised beds already, rotation is a great idea and I will have more time to think of that. Thanks for your great post, Margaret.

    I grow herbs in window boxes on my deck rail, along with flowers. I have also planted two types of peas that will fit in those boxes: Little Snowpea Purple which grows to 24 inches, which will have bi-color purple flowers and then purple edible pod peas and Half Pint shelling peas which will grow to 6-8 inches.. I think they’ll be fun to harvest for a treat. I can replant them after the first peas stop producing, since they are frost hardy.

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