Succession planting in practice

All of our GIEI friends contributing to the Grow100 Challenge know what it’s like to try to fit your gardening dreams into a limited space (and so does Joe Yonan, who had a nice article about his front-yard garden in the Washington Post today), but even those of us with a bit more square-footage have to plan and improvise to grow everything we’d like to.

I have 400 square feet of growing space at the South Germantown Community Garden – well, 400 square feet minus paths, because I do have to be able to reach my plants. Therefore, succession planting – the art of using the same space for multiple crops during the course of the year – is very important to me. I divide the succession planting concept into several plans of attack:

  • Plant one crop, remove it when it’s past its best, and plant another crop in its place.
  • Plant one crop, and then plant another in the same general area before the first crop is done.
  • Plant several things in the same place from the very beginning.
  • Instead of planting all the seeds of a crop at once, sow some every couple of weeks.
  • Sow additional seeds once a crop’s established, because I know it may have a limited lifespan.
In all cases it is a good idea to add compost to the beds when starting new crops.
The last month or so, as we’ve been moving from spring into summer, has been a flurry of succession planting. I let a spring crop of radishes, which didn’t all produce good roots before bolting, go to flower because beneficial insects like them and because I like to collect the seedpods and flower buds for eating, but then I pulled them out and replaced them with a short row of bush beans. Bush beans tend to squeeze into my garden in small groups, where there’s room, rather than in long rows. I also pulled out my little patch of snow peas before they were quite done (but they had only a few flowers left and it was getting hot), because they were shading a fish pepper plant. It’s now shot up with the increased sun exposure.
I planned some space-sharing from the beginning this year. When I put in my lettuce (note to self: DO NOT PLANT SO MUCH LETTUCE NEXT YEAR) I knew I’d plant tomatoes in the same row. The tomatoes have now begun to shade the lettuce, which means it may go a bit longer before bolting.
Last year I planted sweet potatoes under my tomatoes, which worked reasonably well, but this year I put in a row of brassica plants like cauliflower, kale and mustard (under a floating row cover) and then fit in my sweet potato slips among them when they arrived in late May. I’ve now taken out most of the greens:
and the sweet potatoes have plenty of room to sprawl. The lettuce there is accidental, by the way, produced by a stray seed, and the row cover to the left is protecting some kale that’s still growing. There’s also a volunteer squash in that bed, which I am keeping my eye on to make sure it doesn’t take over completely.
Speaking of squash, I have planted some winter squash among my beets:
The beets should all be harvested before the squash takes over – if it does, and doesn’t succumb to pests or disease. Look at the photo carefully and you will spot a cucumber beetle, who I’m sure is happily spreading bacterial wilt to my young cucumber plants. I’ve put in extra cucumber seeds next to the first ones so I’ll get a second crop.
If the squash does take over, it can spread into the space just beyond the beets where the garlic is coming out this week. Though I may also buy some additional peppers or eggplants and stick them there. Or plant some bush beans.
In all your planning, remember to spare some room for flowering plants that will attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. I’ve had both calendulas and cosmos come back in a big way, and have let some of the plants grow. I’ve also got a half dozen lavender plants on the edges of the plot, growing happily despite the soil not being really ideal for them (too much clay).
I wish I’d been able to catch in the photo one of the many bees buzzing around the plant, but believe me, they love it. I may have limited planting space, but I yield it happily to herbs and flowers.
And summer may have only just begun, but it’s time to think about where the fall plants are going to fit in. Hmm…

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