By now, your spring planting is beginning to pay off in the vegetable garden. Tomatoes, corn, beans, lettuce and lots of other garden goodies are gracing the table or plants are getting ready to bear. But don't think that all that's left to do is weed, water, and harvest. There's still plenty of time to do some more planting to carry the garden bounty on into the late summer and fall.
You'll get the most out of your garden harvest if you practice a technique called succession planting. There are a couple of ways to do this. You can make small, staggered seed sowings every few weeks for crops like lettuce and bush beans that mature quickly. This gives you a continuous harvest as long as the weather is suitable. It also prevents the common dilemma of having too much of a ripe crop at one time, then none at all a little while later.
Succession planting is also a great way to use your garden space most efficiently by growing more than one crop in the same soil over the course of the season. You might follow a fast-maturing spring crop like radishes or spinach with one that prefers the heat of summer, such as summer squash, eggplant, or okra. If your growing season is long enough, you can even follow a summer crop with a fall one, such as lettuce, arugula, or other salad greens that thrive in the cooler autumn weather.
So keep your seed packets at the ready. Grow a super-productive garden by continuing to plant -- and harvest -- throughout the summer!
Here are some of our vegetables varieties that are great candidates for succession planting.
'Contender' Bush Bean (49 days) - The 6-7 inch, slim, stringless, tender pods of this highly productive variety mature quickly, making it a great choice for succession planting.
'Green Long' (Indian Sub-Continent) Cucumber (35-45 days) - The 9 1/2 inch long fruits of this fast-maturing variety have green, spiny skins.
'Crookneck Yellow' Summer Squash (42 days) - This improved strain of an old favorite is a prolific bearer.
'Vates' Collards (75 days) - The large, dark green leaves have a mild, cabbage-like flavor.
'Nobel Giant' Spinach (43-46 days) - Spreading, vigorous plants have huge, smooth, triangular, dark green leaves.
'Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch' Kale (55-60 days) - 12-15 inch tall plants have tightly curled, blue-green leaves.
'Blues' (Oriental Hybrid) Chinese Cabbage (57 days) - This bright green, barrel-shaped, blocky cabbage has good disease resistance.
How Long is your Growing Season? Simply put, the longer the growing season in your area, the more crops you can grow in succession. Gardeners in cool, short-season climates may only be able to plant two successive crops, while those in warmer parts of the country may be able to squeeze in three or more. In the warmest sections, it's even possible to grow certain hardy crops, like onions or collards, right through the winter months.
Check the Days to Maturity To know if your crop will have time to mature before cold weather arrives, an important consideration when planting for an end-of-the-season harvest, check the days to maturity listed on the seed packet. Choose varieties that mature quickly if your season is short. To figure our when to sow your crop, take the days to maturity listed on the seed packet and count back that number of days from your fall frost date to get your seed planting date. If the days to maturity listed are from transplanting, add six weeks to this figure to know when to sow your seeds. It's a good idea to add an additional week or two to these dates since plants won't be growing as fast as the days get shorter and cooler in the fall.
Plant a Little, Plant a Lot Sow fast-maturing crops that bear abundantly over a relatively short time, like bush beans, dill and cilantro, in small amounts every ten days to two weeks. This way you won't be overwhelmed by too much produce at once and you'll have a continuous supply of tender fresh veggies and herbs.
Succession Combos to Try Here are a few tried-and-true succession planting combinations to try that work well in many parts of the country.
* Spinach, followed by bush beans, followed by kale
* Mesclun greens, followed by cucumbers, followed by lettuce
* Peas, followed by sweet corn, followed by collards
* Radishes, followed by eggplant, followed by Chinese cabbage
Chill Out One of the challenges of sowing seeds of lettuce and spinach in summer for fall harvest is that the warm soil induces dormancy in the seeds. To overcome this problem, refrigerate seeds for a week or two before planting. Be sure to keep young seedlings well watered and give them some shade from the hot midsummer sun.
Sow for Fresh Harvest and Storage Grow both early and late varieties of crops like beets and carrots. Choose a faster-maturing variety for fresh harvest earlier in the season and plant a later-sown variety to mature at the end of the season for storage over the winter.
Q: My ripening tomatoes have deep holes eaten into them but I haven't found any insects feeding on them. Help!
A: This sounds like damage from the tomato fruitworm, a striped yellow, green or brown caterpillar that chews deep holes in the tomato fruits and may also feed on the leaves of the plants. It can attack many other plants besides tomatoes (when it's in corn it's called the corn earworm). The adult is a moth that lays its eggs in the spring on leaves and stems. The caterpillars that hatch out feed on the leaves until they are about 1/2 inch long, then they burrow into the tomato fruits, causing the kind of damage you noticed. After feeding for 2 to 4 weeks, they then exit the fruits and drop to the ground, burrow into the soil and pupate, emerging a few weeks later as adult moths to begin the cycle again. This may be why you didn't see any insects in your tomatoes, just the damage they did. There can be several generations a year.
Once the caterpillars are inside the fruits there is nothing you can do except destroy infested tomatoes; don't put them in your compost pile in case the worms are still inside. Clean up all old plant debris in the garden at the end of the season to reduce the number of overwintering adults. To control the insects during the growing season, spray with the microbial insecticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). This is a very safe and effective insecticide that only affects caterpillars (the larvae of moths and butterflies). You can also use the natural insecticide spinosad. Both of these insecticides are available at garden stores under a variety of trade names; look for the names I gave listed as the active ingredient. Either of these products needs to be applied when the young caterpillars are feeding, before they get inside the tomatoes, and you'll need to make repeat applications during the growing season to control each new generation of pests. Follow the label instructions for timing.