Summer is well under way and hopefully your garden beds are all full. Some crops will have been harvested and the space is empty until you fill it again. If you worked out your garden plan and made a garden map back in the winter, you will have an easier time filling those spots. You should already have anticipated when each crop would be finished and what would go in next. The seeds would have been included in your seed order and are ready to plant. Not everyone is as up on their garden planning as they would like, and even if you do have a great plan, things have a way of changing. Some of you are new at gardening and are just now learning as you go. You need to consider what comes next in the succession of crops through your beds. Rarely do you plant at just one time and then weed and harvest for the rest of the season.
Succession planting refers to planting one crop after another. It can be succession planting in one place, with a new crop going in when another is done. I grow cowpeas, often known as black-eyed peas, as our dried bean. Cowpeas prefer soil that has warmed to 65 degrees. I harvest wheat and rye for grain in mid-June, although this year much of the grain harvest has been early with the weather heating up so early. Mid-June is a great time for the cowpeas to go in. I make furrows in the dead grain stubble and plant the cowpea seeds. The stubble provides some shelter for the new seedlings and will gradually decompose to feed back the soil. Besides the grain beds, other spaces that might open up for planting at this time are where your garlic, onions, lettuce, sugar snap peas, potatoes and cabbage family plants were growing.
Succession planting could also refer to planting a certain crop at intervals so you have a continued harvest. In that case, the next planting is done in another bed while the first planting is still growing. The snap beans that I grow give me a good harvest for two weeks. If I want a continual harvest each week in the summer, I can plant them every two weeks somewhere in the garden. I did that when I was selling vegetables. Of course, if they are for your table that means you are snapping beans all summer. For home use, you might plant enough for a large harvest to preserve, then a smaller planting or two to eat fresh. I plan to have beans to can early in the summer, before the tomatoes come in. You should schedule things like this around your vacation plans or other times you know you will be busy. The forms in my video Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan can help you calculate your plant and harvest times.
Planting for a continual harvest of something like sweet corn is interesting. You could plant the same variety at two week intervals like with the snap beans. You could also extend your sweet corn harvest by planting early, middle, and late season varieties at the same time. They will mature one after the other. In this case you need to know the days to maturity for the varieties that you are planting. Corn will cross pollinate with other varieties and it will show up in the seeds that you will be eating and saving. If you want to keep the varieties separate, make sure there are at least two weeks from the maturation of one variety to the next. I plant Bloody Butcher corn for cornmeal and popcorn for fun. The Bloody Butcher goes in first because that is my main season crop. The popcorn is planted later.
Things like summer squash or cucumbers can be planted at one month intervals. Those zucchini plants that looked so good when they were first coming along have a tendency to just die on you one day. That’s when it is nice to have that second or third planting as a backup. Even a few plants here and there, filling in spaces as they become available, help to keep the produce coming into the kitchen. For crops that succumb to the first frost, you can decide if you have enough time for it to mature by figuring the days to maturity plus the weeks of harvest. Add about two weeks because once the nights begin to cool down in September, maturity time is affected. Now you have the number of days you need before that first frost to allow for this crop. Using a calendar, count back that many days from the first expected frost in your area. You have up until then to plant the crop. If you don’t already know when to expect your first frost, ask around or call your county Cooperative Extension Service. You can use your coldframe through the summer, without the lid of course, as a space to grow seedlings to have ready when you need them for transplanting.
Some crops, such as the cabbage family, are cold hardy and are tastier once they have been touched by frost. With a little protection, they can be harvested over the winter, depending on your climate. Eliot Coleman’s book Four Season Harvest has good information on that, plus a chart about planting times according to your frost date. Without added protection, however, you will need to bring that crop to maturity by that first frost date, even if the harvest continues long after. I plant carrots and beets in the summer so they will mature no later than mid-October. If I’ve planted enough, I can harvest all through the winter. The tops will die back and I’ll throw some leaves over the bed for protection once the voles have found other winter homes.
It might be that you have space open that you intend to plant something in, but for one reason or another, there will be a delay. That is a great niche for buckwheat. It grows fast, filling the space and flowering in about 45 days, leaving no place for weeds to come in. Furthermore, those flowers attract many beneficial insects that prey on the annoying ones. It is good to have buckwheat coming up somewhere around your garden all summer.
Having a tight rotation, with one crop following another, will do much to keep weeds from overtaking your garden beds. However, it happens to everyone, sometime, that the next crop is delayed and the weeds do move in. Consider them a compost crop and add them to your compost pile as you clean up for the next planting. Hopefully you take them out before they go to seed. Those weeds will add diversity to your compost and be a good reminder to you how helpful it is to follow a tight rotation. There is still plenty of summer left. Have a good time in your garden!