Succession planting, also known as successive planting, is a way to extend your harvest by staggering plantings of crops or planting varieties with staggered maturing dates. There are basically four methods of succession planting.
1. Same Vegetable, Staggered Plantings
Space out plantings of the same vegetable every 2-4 weeks. Many vegetables fade after producing their initial crop, setting a heavy yield initially, then smaller and smaller yields throughout the summer.
Rather than planting your entire row of beans all at once and having feast or famine, you can plant part of the row at the beginning of the season and then plant more in about 2-4 weeks. A new crop will be continually coming in. As the first plants start to flag, you can replant that area with beans or use it for a different crop.
2. Different Vegetables in Succession
Some crops, like peas, have short growing seasons and the space they were using can be replanted with a later season crop, like eggplant. The best vegetables for succession plantings include: arugula, basil, beans (pole), beets, broccoli raab, carrots, chicory, cilantro, corn salad (mache), dill, endive, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mizuna, mustard, bok choi, radish, rutabaga, spinach, swiss chard, tatsoi and turnips.
3. Paired Vegetables in the Same Spot
Often you can seed the early season vegetable at the same time you are planting.
4. Same Vegetable, Different Maturity Rates
An easy way to keep your harvest coming in is to choose more than one variety of a crop and make them early, mid, and late season varieties.
Sometimes the seed packet will be labeled as such and sometimes you will just have to read the "days to maturity" number, but tomatoes, corn, summer squash and several other vegetables can be staggered throughout the growing season this way. Vegetables to sow with different maturity dates include: beans (pole), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac/celery, collards, corn, eggplant, kale, melon, peas, summer squash and tomatoes
Tips for Successful Succession Planting
- Make sure you have enough seed to get you through the season and into fall if you plan to over-winter vegetables in hoop houses. Some seed lasts several years, others need to be fresh for good germination. (Seed viability chart)
- Add some compost or leaf mold to the beds, between plantings, to keep the soil rich.
- Don't hesitate to pull out vegetables past their prime. Use them while they are at their best and then use the space for something else.
- If you're an avid seed starter, you can start new transplants in mid-spring, when the first batch has finally been moved out. Summer squash and cucumbers started in May or June will be ready to transplant as the first plantings wind down (or get eaten by bugs). Once those are transplanted, seed your fall greens, like kale and chard, to grow on indoors or in a protected area, then move into the garden in late summer.
- In lieu of starting seeds, you can always fall back on the technique of planting varieties that mature at different times, as I mentioned above.
- Vegetables that like cooler temperatures can still be started during the summer if you cool the soil before planting seeds. The easiest way to do this is to thoroughly soak the planting area and the cover it with a wide board for a couple of days before planting. Lift the board to sow the seeds, water again and then replace the board on top of sown row. Check daily for germination and remove the board as soon as you see the first signs of green.