Put the Success in Succession Planting

Amanda Thibodeau at Food Love FarmAmanda here reporting from the (hopefully) tail end of the last big spring storm.  I almost forgot what it’s like to see the gorgeous sunshine, but no doubt it will be hot and dry sooner than we know it!

With this weird spring, you may have not gotten all your planting done in a timely manner- but fear not!  There’s still time to plant seeds for your summer garden.  And if you haven’t gotten in your Solanacea/Nightshade Family (tomatoes, peppers etc) now is the time! (Note- it’s too late to start these crops from seed).

Generally for the summer garden, I think of the solstice (mid June) as the hard end to summer crop planting.  Then in July/August it’s time to think about seeding for fall/winter gardens.

One of the things that easily translates over from farming to gardening is the idea of planting successions of certain crops.  Succession planting is just what it sounds like- seeding and planting crops successively so that you can enjoy a continuous harvest all season long.  Now, if you talk to any local producer chances are they will have a planting schedule that tells them exactly when to plant everything to have harvests available at the right time.  For the home gardener, this is a little more lax.  You probably don’t have any strong deadlines telling you to have 25# of lettuce available each week.  But it is nice to have a continuous amount of food available.

Here are a few crops that you can still seed for a summer harvest:

lettuces (look for heat resistant or slow bolting types), arugula, cilantro, basil, radishes, salad turnips, beets, carrots, green beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchini, watermelons, corn (depending on days to maturity).

Johnny’s Selected Seeds has an amazing chart that explains it all!  And if you are looking to source quality seeds, check out our list here.

2911.jpgWhen you are considering planting a variety at this time of year, check the days to maturity on the packet and count forward to figure when the crop will be ready.  For instance, the Dark Star zucchini is ready in 55 days.  If you were to seed it June 1st, it might take a week to germinate and then it would be ready in August.  That’s still long before the first freeze might be expected so you’re still in an excellent window to seed this crop.


Another vital piece of information is when your approximate first frost of the season will be, this is the date you can work backwards from.  At my house in Nevada City (approx 2600 feet), we usually get the first frost mid-October but some years it’s been as early as late September.  We are also in a cold pocket.  Generally, the lower in elevation you are, the longer season you get.  For every 500′ in elevation drop, you can usually add another month of growing before the frost.  Likewise, as you go higher in elevation the growing season gets shorter.  Not sure when the frost dates are for your area?  Ask a neighbor who gardens, or call the Master Gardeners and they can give you a good idea as well.

Here are some loose rules you can consider when thinking about successions:

  1. Figure out when the last frost is and work backwards.
  2. Think about what it is that you actually like to eat!
  3. Try to plant something each week (check out the succession chart for ideas)
  4. Don’t be shy about harvesting, after all you’re going to need that bed space for more planting!
  5. Have fun and try not to worry about getting it right- it’s all an experiment.

And hey, if you miss the boat on summer successions no big deal!  That just means you’ll be extra ready to plant a fall/winter garden when the time comes.