By Shannon McCabe, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/rareseeds.com
Photographs courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Spring fever is a powerful feeling. The change of season brings a breath of fresh, post-winter air and with it, gardening inspiration and motivation.
Often we are tempted to plant the entire garden plot in one afternoon. While I never wish to stifle this kind of garden excitement, it is important to keep in mind the importance of staggering your seed sowing to ensure a more consistent supply of fresh produce throughout the season.
This practice is known as succession sowing, and it is the secret to a longer harvest window and greater garden abundance overall. The practice of making small plantings several times throughout the gardening season also means higher quality produce, as plants that are harvested younger tend to have better flavor and texture.
Lettuce and other greens - Tasty and tender salad greens are perfectly suited to succession sowing. Lettuce can be sown every 7-10 days. It can be harvested at baby stage or allowed to mature into full heads. Lettuce should be sown from early spring until the summer's heat makes the greens bitter. Mid-summer successions of lettuce should be moved to a shady spot in the garden to protect from the sun's intensity. Kale can be started early and sowed in thick bands to harvest as baby kale, which is more tender and better for raw eating. Kale can be sown every 14 days for a continual harvest. Like lettuce, later crops of kale should be located in your garden's coolest microclimate.
Spinach - Succession planting is an essential technique for a good spinach harvest. For those who like a consistent supply of spinach, but have had issues with mid-summer bolting, consider starting with a cold-tolerant spinach likeGigante d'Inverno and transition to a more heat-tolerant "spinach-like" green for the summer. Green Calaloo Amaranth is used much like spinach in places like the Caribbean where heat and humidity stymie traditional spinach. This clever timing technique will greatly reduce waste and make for better-tasting harvests.
Radishes - One of the fastest maturing crops, the spring radish is incredibly rewarding with an impressive turnaround time! The De 18 Jours radish is an old French heirloom, which will be ready for harvest in just under 20 days! This variety along with French Breakfast and White Hailstone make a perfect early radish medley in a trio of colors. You can sow radishes every 7 days from early spring until the heat of summer intensifies and causes them to bolt (this can vary depending on your climate). If you want that piquant radish flavor for your high summer salads but your radishes have stopped producing, try planting a few successions of the Singara Rat's Tail Radish. It is a heat-loving radish relative that is grown for its seedpods, which have a spicy radish flavor and crunchy texture.
Succession sowing also helps us gardeners to better determine ideal planting dates for various crops. When we experiment with several sowings within a wide window of planting dates we are able through trial and error to learn when is too early and too late for that particular crop in our zone. It is wise to keep a journal with your sowing dates, keeping notes on harvest quantity and quality. This will help you to become an expert on the potential and limitations of your garden and its microclimates.
Practicing succession sowing will also help to cut down on wasted produce and wasted garden space. All too often we overplant in early spring and are left with too much of one crop, and we are forced to "put it up" or compost it. Successions will reduce that waste, meaning more fresh produce!
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