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Succession planting for higher garden yields

July 2, 2008
By Richard Gast, Franklin County Cornell Cooperative Extension

Let's face it, anyone who plants a vegetable garden wants to benefit by yielding as much from his or her garden as possible. Those who plant large vegetable gardens often find themselves covered with dirt and sweat, questioning whether or not it's really worth the effort.

Persons with smaller gardens can feel the same way when they only get a small taste of something mouth-wateringly delicious. But with a little careful planning and succession planting, enthusiasts and novices alike can really boost their home garden production.

Succession planting is a technique often used by small scale commercial

growers. Sometimes called multiple cropping in agriculture, succession

planting refers to several methods for increasing and extending crop harvest during the growing season. Essentially, succession planting

methods maximize the efficient use of both garden space and effective

harvest timing.

There are several approaches to succession gardening. The method that I see most widely used is the planting of two or more crops in sequence.

In other words, as soon as one crop is harvested, that otherwise unused garden space is immediately replanted with a different crop.

For example, in many area gardens, early season peas are now being harvested. Once that harvest is completed, standard gardeners will

leave that garden space unplanted. Succession gardeners, on the other

hand, will immediately plant a fast growing crop, such as head or leaf

lettuce, spinach, carrots, kale or radishes in that space. Or they may

transplant vegetable plants that have been growing in containers up to

now into the garden. The crops most widely chosen for transplanting are

Cole crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage,

all crops that will not be damaged by exposure to light frost toward

the end of the growing season. Knowledgeable gardeners choose early maturing varieties, which helps assure a bountiful late season harvest.

Keep in mind that soils tends to dry out more quickly in the middle of a hot summer than they do in spring. If things begin to heat up, seeds and seedlings will need to be frequently watered. Providing shade by covering newly planted seed beds can help with water retention, but any cover should be removed as soon as the first seed sprouts.

Cool season crops are often pre-sprouted for late season planting. The quality of many cool season crops will be best if they mature in late summer.

Another approach commonly used for lettuce and other salad greens is

planting at timed intervals (as opposed to planting an entire crop in

one day). The result is a continuous harvest extended over a period of

weeks or months, rather than the entire crop becoming ready at once.

Companion planting or intercropping is a third approach. This farming practice entails growing two or more crops that will not compete with each other for space, nutrients, water or sunlight in the same field or

garden space at the same time. Often, a deep-rooted crop is planted with a shallow rooted one or a crop that will grow tall is planted with a shorter, shade tolerant one. By intercropping, you can achieve a much higher yield on a given amount of land than if you were to plant just one crop. When properly done, the results will be plants that are thriving in a garden that is very aesthetically pleasing.

A perfect and perhaps prehistoric example of intercropping at its best

is the Native American three sisters garden. The three sisters are corn, pole beans and squash. These three plants, when grown together, form a healthy ecosystem of insects and soil organisms. And they exist in symbiosis.

As the plants mature, the beans put nitrogen into the soil, which greatly benefits the corn. The corn, in return, provides a support upon which the beans can grow. The squash provides ground cover, shading the soil and retaining moisture. Together they promote soil conservation, deter predators and help prevent erosion. From a dietary standpoint, the gardener harvests corn, which is a grain

abundant in carbohydrates; beans, which provide protein; and squash,

which is rich in vitamin A.

Being observant and taking notes will help with making adjustments in

the future. Keep in mind, though, that the varieties you choose, your

soil quality and the weather, among other things, will all affect plant

growth and maturation.



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