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Planting Techniques for a Longer Vegetable Harvest

If you plan carefully before planting, you can continuously harvest fresh food without interruption, even if you have a small vegetable or raised-bed garden. By planning, you can also make sure that you aren't eating radishes for every meal for a month, followed by nothing but carrots. This method is called succession planting and it refers to following a plan that allows you to have a subsequent crop ready to plant as the previous one wraps up. Succession planting also includes the practice of sowing seeds of the same vegetable plant several weeks apart so that the vegetables ripen on a staggered schedule (again, preventing the problem of having 100 ripe radishes all at once).

Succession Planting for Staggered Harvests

The simplest form of succession planting is to plant the same vegetable in different parts of the garden two to three weeks apart. Typically, this means vegetables that produce for a limited period of time (peas, green beans) or that you pull out completely in order to harvest (carrots, radishes). This practice is also useful for vegetables that taste better when harvested "young" (lettuce, spinach). Try these.

  • To harvest fresh and tasty carrots, plant one row of carrots every three weeks for two months. In the Southeast and on the West Coast, you can plant carrots every three weeks from September through March.
  • A few radishes go far. Plant 20 radish seeds every two weeks for two months during spring.
  • Keep a robust crop of baby lettuces growing by planting a thickly sown row of lettuce seeds every two weeks during spring and fall.
  • Plant two spring pea crops, four weeks apart. A 4 ft. x 4 ft. square will provide a pea harvest for two people for six weeks.
  • Sow two green bean crops six weeks apart for a longer bean harvest. Green beans grow best in warm weather.

Tip: Make notes on your calendar to remind yourself to plant the next "round" of each vegetable. It's easy to forget!

Succession Planting to Keep the Garden Full

This type of succession planting is trickier. It involves more planning - especially if you're starting seeds for the next round yourself. To make it easier to switch from one vegetable to the next, divide the garden into 12 in. or 18 in. squares. Plant each square with the same type of vegetable; for instance, you could plant one square with radishes. When they're ripe, pull them up and plant a tomato.

You can also plan for succession planting from cool-season to warm-season vegetables for larger areas of a garden. For example, plant a section of lettuce (cool season). When the lettuce is finished, pull it up and plant peppers (warm season).

An important succession planting consideration is to alternate between "types" of vegetables, because they use the important plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) in differing amounts. Switch between a leaf crop (such as lettuce) and a root crop (such as beets), followed by a "fruit crop" (such as tomatoes or peppers).

Before you "get growing," take a few minutes to organize your planting plan and you'll be able to harvest fresh vegetables almost all year.

Supplies needed:

  • Fertilizer
  • Soil
  • Shovel