Succession Planting

September 27, 2014

Author: Ian Whittington

Category: General News Planting 101 Stories from the Garden

I’ve been getting mixed results with all the seeds I’ve sowed lately.

The peas I planted are doing really well.

My peas sprouted within a week after being planted.

My peas sprouted within a week after being planted.

So are my carrots and turnips.

My turnip and carrot sprouts.

My turnip and carrot sprouts.

I adore spinach, and luckily that’s sprouted too.

My spinach sprouts.

My spinach sprouts.

Where I’ve had the most problems is with my lettuce. It’s just not coming up. Of the three varieties I’ve planted only one, the Tom Thumb lettuce, has had any decent growth.

Tom Thumb Lettuce sprouts. Out of six rows this was the spot with the most growth.

Tom Thumb Lettuce sprouts. Out of six rows this was the spot with the most growth.

One reason more didn’t sprout may be because I haven’t been keeping the ground moist enough, which is important to do when you’re trying to get your seeds to germinate. But it could also very well be the case that the seeds I used just aren’t viable. Regardless I seeded more Red Salad mix lettuce, so hopefully that will pop up soon.

Most of what I planted is in spaces in which I already had holes. The carrots and turnips are where the cucumber had been, and the lettuce is taking over the spot that had my beans. The peas, however, are an exception: they were planted in a row under the tomatoes.

I planted my peas under the tomatoes to take advantage of its shade before it dies.

I planted my peas under the tomatoes to take advantage of its shade before it dies.

Now, you may be wondering why would I plant something in a spot already taken up by a fully mature plant. After all, won’t the tomato just crowd out my peas?

There are two reasons I chose to put my peas there. One, the shade from the tomato plants can offer my pea sprouts a little protection from the sun while they’re still delicate. The second, more pertinent reason is that I know my tomatoes are going to be done soon, and ultimately I’m aiming for my peas to be the tomato’s successor.

This is an example of succession planting, which is basically the idea of having multiple plantings to utilize an area as much as possible.

There are two kinds of succession planting:

  • Succession with one type of plant
    • Stagger your planting to have continual production throughout the season
  • Dealing with multiple crops
    • Think of when you’ll harvest something so you know when you’ll have new space opening up for the next planting.

 

Using the space where my cucumbers use to be for turnips and carrots is succession planting with multiple crops.

Using the space where my cucumbers use to be for turnips and carrots is succession planting with multiple crops.

For succession planting to work it’s vital to understand your plants’ life cycles. In the pea example I’m using my knowledge that my tomatoes won’t be around too much longer by literally laying my seeds for the next harvest. But it’s not about planting any old thing at any time.

When trying out succession planting, you’ll want to consider:

  • Crowding:
    • You will need the ability to envision the full growth of your crops.
      • Example: Fully-grown tomatoes need space to get all the water and nutrients necessary for fruiting, so I wouldn’t plan to have greens growing concurrently around it.
  • Shade:
    • You must understand the way that shade will shift as the garden matures.
      • Example: Fully grown okra and be quite tall. Anything grown on the north side of them would be heavily shaded in late summer, so I’d have to be cognizant about that when planting.
  • Weather:
    • You must understand the role of the seasons and weather in order to make sure that vegetables are ready at the right time.
      • Example: You can’t stagger broccoli family plantings in the spring because anything planted too late will bolt in the summer heat.

 

These sweet potatoes started out as only a few small vines. Knowing they can spread out will allow me to plan better later.

These sweet potatoes started out as only a few small vines. Knowing they can spread out will allow me to plan better later.

Succession planting can be tricky, but that’s only because it requires a lot of patience and foresight. That’s why it can be a difficult concept for new gardeners. In theory it’s quite easy to understand, but without experience you just won’t know how to plan ahead.

First tomatoes planted

My tomatoes when I first planted them (bottom half).

Back when I first planted my tomatoes they were so small that planting them far apart seemed like a waste of space. After all, I wanted to have as a productive a garden as possible. Luckily some of the NFI community members warned me that as they mature tomato plants can get quite big. This prompted me to dig them up and space them farther apart, which looking back was the best thing I could’ve done. Had I not done that, well, things would’ve gotten crowded.

My tomatoes at full maturity, taking up  a lot of space.

My tomatoes at full maturity, taking up a lot of space.

This is the kind of forward thinking it takes to have a successful garden. How much room will this plant end up taking up? When will it stop producing fruit? Will its structure impede plants around it? Could its structure be used to help the next round of plants grow better?

Now that I’m close to having a full season behind me, I have a better understanding of the things I need to consider as I plan out my next garden. Will I get everything right? Probably not. But hopefully if I think things out properly my next season will be nothing but a never ending harvest.

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