BY: Dr. Judy Stout, Mobile County Master Gardener, www.mobilecountymastergardeners.org
Q My vegetable garden is small and productive. However, I would like to get a longer harvest period and find a way to continue to have crops like broccoli and corn, which all seem to mature at the same time and overwhelm me with more than we can consume. Suggestions?
A Succession planting may be your answer. There are various approaches to succession planting, but a caution: success requires a little research and careful planning to make any of them work. Also, save yourself unnecessary work and waste by planting only what you will eat and in quantities that fit with your planned use (eat fresh, preserve, or give away). After you get better at this, you may want to experiment a little!
Staggered or interval planting. Same crop type and variety: Plant a small amount leaving room for more. Then stagger additional plantings at intervals, e.g., by seeds: 7 days -- radishes, leafy lettuces; 10 days -- peas, bush beans, sweet corn; 14 days – arugula, turnips; 21 days – cucumbers, carrots; 30 days – summer squash. Add younger transplants for successive crops of types that have longer days to maturity and are all harvested at one time (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, head lettuce, cabbage).
Concurrent variety planting. Same vegetable type using different varieties: Check days to maturity for varieties of your favorites and plant different varieties at the same time, which will produce crops in succession. This requires some researching and planning your seed purchase schedule (e.g., tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots) as well as scheduling growing transplants to add in.
Especially for tomatoes! Plant both determinate and indeterminate varieties at the same time, as soon as there is no frost danger. Determinate tomatoes (many of the larger, slicing tomatoes) have a distinct length to their growing season and then stop growing and producing. Be prepared to pull these up when production wanes and replace them in the same space with another crop type (e.g., okra seeds or peppers and eggplant transplants). Select tomato varieties with shorter days to maturity to get good production before daytime temperatures reach 85° or nighttime temperatures exceed 70°. Pollination and fruit production will cease at these higher temperatures. Indeterminate tomatoes (some larger tomatoes but many cherries, pears, Roma, and pasta varieties) continue to grow and produce over a much longer harvest season. Leave plenty of space for these sprawling plants.
Different crop types with different sizes, space requirements, and harvest times – Companion Planting. Some examples to consider. Plant quick-growing greens when you plant your tomatoes and harvest greens when the tomatoes get large. Grow carrots with your corn. Interplant collards with radishes and onions. Do some research and discover more possibilities.
Know the average first and last frost dates for your zip code (https://morningchores.com/frost-dates/). Plan your planting dates and replanting schedules to maximize yield between these two dates.
Determine days to maturity for your favorite crops and select varieties most suitable for your garden and staggered planting schedules. Check seed packages and catalogs for this information. Plan to grow transplants from seeds that will mature in time.
If you plan to use companion planting, make sure the partners are compatible and not deterrents to either or both.
When one crop is spent, remove the plants, refresh the soil, and plant with another late crop type. Maximize space utilization and total food yield.
If you plan to use transplants in successive plantings or as a second follow-up crop, you will probably have to grow many of your own. Most retail outlets stock large quantities at the optimum, high customer demand seasons and may not have new, healthy young transplants when your plan calls for them. This means having enough seeds for early planting and more to grow transplants. It also requires that you have a growing plan, schedule, and equipment on hand. More work, but worth it!
A good guide for vegetable gardening in Alabama is ACES publication Planting Guide for Home Gardening in Alabama (https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/lawn-garden/planting-guide-for-home-gardening-in-alabama/ ). And visit this next site for more information on succession planting.