If you have a small garden, or even if you have a large garden but you like to grow year-round, you need to know how to maximize your food production by making use of every bit of garden space available. Today I’ll share my top 7 tips to grow more food, even in a small space, with succession planting.
What is Succession Planting?
Very simply, it’s the action of following one plant with another. For instance, planting peas in the spring, pulling them out in the summer, and planting beets in that same bed for fall harvest. If this is as far as you get with succession planting, you’re still going to increase your harvests, but we’re going to dive deeper.
For me, the push to grow more food comes down to three reasons:
1) Health. When I feed my family garden-fresh produce, I have total control over what goes into their body. No chemicals, no herbicide or pesticide residues.
2) Savings. This winter we had an extremely cold spell and my kale and lettuce died (after many months of harvesting). Even with the very low prices of organic lettuce and kale at Aldi’s I still spent $10 each week on greens. Multiply that by a few months, and I’m spending hundreds of dollars on greens alone! With just a little bit of planning, I can reduce my food bill dramatically.
3) Pure enjoyment. Gardening is a passion and succession planting is what I would call the Next Level of gardening, so if you’ve already mastered the basics, it’s time to up your game and grow more food!
A note about fertility: Soil fertility is very important, and it’s important to remember that the more food you grow, the more nutrients you need to add. Check out my favorite organic ways to add fertility to the garden in this post.
7 Ways to Grow more Food with Succession Planting
Okay, let’s get on with the tips! Here are my favorite ways to grow more food, using various succession planting techniques:
1) Staggered Planting
With staggered planting, rather than planting the entire crop at once, you would space out the sowing of your crop over time. For example, if you know you want to plant 2 total beds of beets, you might plant ½ bed at a time, at 14 day intervals.
There are a few reasons to stagger planting:
- To prolong the harvest window of plants that are prone to bolting, or going to seed (for example, lettuce and other greens).
- To manage crops that give an abundant harvest that you can’t possibly eat all at once (bush beans, corn, peas).
- To reduce pest pressure by planting at times when you have a better chance of avoiding pest life cycles. I have had success using this technique with summer squash, planting an early crop and a later crop in late July.
2) Pull a Plant, Plant a Plant
The first really influential gardening book I ever read was Steve Solomon’s Gardening West of the Cascades. I remember that Steve’s mark of a good gardener was one whose soil was never bare.
Granted, the Willamette Valley is a very forgiving place to garden, and you can typically grow year round, but that notion has stuck with me. Whenever possible, as soon as you remove a spent crop, immediately amend and re-plant that same bed. It’s much less work and your soil will rarely be bare.
3) Interplant with Quick Growing Vegetables or Herbs
Yes, you can just plant one large plant (like kale or a summer squash), but a much more effective use of that space is to nestle other smaller and more rapidly maturing plants in and around that plant. This will cover the soil with a living mulch, and give you another crop. For instance, interplant kale with radishes, squash with lettuce. When you harvest the quick growing crop, you’ll be left with ample room for the larger plant.
4) Protect Cool Weather Crops with Shade
Succession planting can be a bit challenging when you’re trying to plant cool weather crops in the middle of the hot summer. Consider creating shade for successful summer plantings. You can do that with botanical shadings – for instance, planting lettuce and spinach on the north side of a sunflower planting – or you can use physical shade like shade cloth. This will help your fall and winter crops get a good head start, even when you’re starting them in the heat of summer.
5) Plant Vegetables You Can Harvest at the Same Time
When you’re trying to plant the next succession of crops, there is nothing more frustrating than being able to empty half of a bed but realizing that you should keep the other half planted. To avoid this problem, plant vegetables with similar maturity rates in the same bed so you can clear it all at once. Pay close attention to plants that “keep going” like broccoli or kale.
6) Tuck Plants into Every Available Space
Nature loves a bit of chaos and polyculture is a wonderful way to diversify your garden and increase yield. If you ever have to pull a diseased or spent plant, sprinkle some lettuce or Swiss chard seeds into the hole! Or plant a few herbs or flowers to attract pollinators and deter pests. Make use of those available spaces and increase your food production!
7) Grow Early Maturing Varieties and Later Maturity Varieties of the Same Plant
This tip is especially useful if you plan to store or preserve food and would also like to eat and enjoy the same crop fresh. For instance, you could grow a bed of early maturing potatoes, eat those through the summer, and then harvest a later maturing crop for storage in the root cellar.
I hope these tips will help you grow more food, regardless of how small your gardening space is! Let me know in the comments your favorite tip for maximizing food production!