One of the “problems” with taking up gardening is the sheer volume of terminology one encounters. For those in the know, a few convenient words sum up entire concepts, but if you’re new to the game, arcane terms like “succession planting” can make simple things seem deeply mysterious and unnecessarily complicated.
As always, Seeds of Plenty is here to help with unfogging the mysteries of gardening, which turn out to be a matter of simple commonsense, and not nearly as intimidating as all those terms may make them seem. Today, we’ll be tackling succession planting, a practice that can help you to extend your harvest time, limit surpluses, and ensure a steady supply of fresh, seasonal veg. Let’s get started!
So What is Succession Planting and How can it Help You?
It’s simple. Succession planting simply means splitting up your seed sowing times so that you have fresh veg or flowers all season long. Planting all your seeds at once means that all your plants will be bearing at once, and that can mean a massive surplus followed by a “famine.” The solution is fairly simple. Sow at different times to ensure that you have a succession of plants bearing one after the other.
There are various approaches to succession planting. The simplest is to plant again after harvesting the last batch, but this means a wait between harvest and next bearing. Our favourite is to make separate plantings of the same crop spaced apart. This ensures continuous, or near-continuous supply throughout the possible growing season for any given crop or variety.
As a final option, one can sow similar crops with different maturity dates – for example, an early bearer, a mid-season bearer, and a slow maturer. Most of the black tomatoes take longer to ripen than their relatives, for instance. But you can plant faster-maturing varieties to start off the season while you wait for your dusky beauties to reach maturity.
It could also be said that different crops following each other are also successions, but in this article, we’ll look at extending the harvest for any single type of crop by using this technique.
How Far Apart Should Successive Plantings be Spaced?
It’s lovely when one can give hard-and-fast answers to seemingly simple questions, but when it comes to plants, plenty of the answers begin with “it depends”. This is no exception. If we’re talking about radishes, for example, you’re probably looking at one or two weeks between sowings because they mature fast.
When it comes to crops that take more than a few weeks to mature, things get more complex. How much will you eat? For how long will the plant keep yielding fruit before it’s harvest time is over? Trial and error are possibly the best ways to figure out what’s best for you. In my personal opinion, I’d say that most veg sowings are best spaced two to four weeks apart, but that’s a generalization and it might not work for you or the crops you plan. Nonetheless, it could make a good starting point.
Same Bed or Different Bed?
The next thing to decide is whether you want to plant successively into the same bed (which means empty spaces waiting to be filled) or if you’ll plant a mixture of food plants to fill each bed before starting on the next one. Once again, that’s up to you. However, it’s worth remembering that you do need a bit of rotation between crops to prevent exhaustion of the soil and a possible breeding ground for plant diseases that target one of the crops you’d like to keep in the mix.
Having said that, I like to fill up as I go. I sow a mixture, and then, a couple of weeks later, I move on to the next bed. To combat the problem of soil exhaustion, I’ll allocate legumes to each bed in succession. If I start picking up plant disease issues, I’m happy to leave a bed fallow (empty) for a season. Beyond the basic principles, there aren’t any real rights or wrongs here.
Catch the End of the Growing Season
A further advantage of applying succession planting is that you get to benefit from the tail end of the growing season. As soon as the frosts are over, most people stock up their veggie beds with summer crops, but many plants, tomatoes for example, will bear and finish before the full growing season is over. Leaving a shortage of fresh veggies for eating and processing as the winter approaches.
A summer sowing that still allows the plants time to reach maturity before the autumn cold sets in solves the problem.
Remember to Keep a Diary
When you apply succession planting, you’ll make some calculations in an attempt to space your plantings according to your needs. To perfect your planning, it helps to know how it worked out for you, and a garden diary with a few basic records will help you to see how successful your planning was.
In the analysis of your results, you may come across some anomalies, such as maturation times that vary from the estimated times seen on seed packets. That’s because a lot of factors are at play here. For example, a particularly hot summer can lead to earlier maturation of plants provided that the weather isn’t so hot as to exceed the optimal temperature range for the growth of any particular variety.
Apart from this, individual gardens and parts of the garden may experience different microclimates, and this will also have its effect. When working with plants, it’s hard to set hard and fast rules, but your gardening diary can help you to see what usually works well and where you might have preferred a succession crop to have been ready a little earlier or later than it actually was.
Succession Planting Rewards You Again and Again
Every successful veggie crop to come from your own garden is a little reward. Stack them up with succession planting and enjoy that feel-good moment again and again all season long. No wonder veggie gardening is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world today! Add succession planting to the equation this summer and keep going throughout the changing seasons.