You’ve been hard at work all spring. First you started some seeds indoors, then you hardened them off so they will withstand the rigors of Colorado weather. You set your transplants in beds you carefully prepared with just the right amendments and fertilizers. Then you seeded some other crops (such as bush beans and squash) outdoors where they are to grow, and now you have cute little seedlings, putting out their first true leaves, on their way to providing you with some delicious eating.
Finally, it’s time to take a break, sit back, and snooze in your hammock (in between chores such as watering and weeding), and wait for your crops to mature.
Or not. If you want more than a week or two of harvest, you’re not done planting. Bush beans, lettuce, radishes, spinach, boy choy, and kohlrabi (above), are among the crops that produce their harvest all in a short period of time. That’s great if you want to preserve your beans and freeze your corn. But if you want fresh beans and salads all summer long, you’ll need to keep sowing seeds.
Sowing the same crop every two weeks or so is called “succession planting.” Ideally, you time things so that as you finish harvesting the first planting, the next one is just coming into maturity. Take beans, for example. I plant Provider, a very early variety, as soon as the weather has warmed. It takes a week or so for the beans to germinate in the cool soil. As soon as they do, I plant Jade, another variety that needs more heat to sprout, and takes a bit longer to produce a crop. I continue planting short rows or small blocks about every two weeks until mid-summer, ensuring a steady supply of one of my favorite veggies.
That sounds pretty straightforward, but there are some other factors to consider. For example, the weather isn’t consistent over the growing season, and all crops do not tolerate the baking heat of summer. Spinach will go to seed as soon as the sun shines longer than 14 hours a day, so wait until August to sow a fall crop. Lettuce that does great in May is likely to bolt in July. In mid-summer, harvest lettuce at a smaller size, while it’s still tasty.
Also, as the season winds to a close, days get shorter and nights get colder. Crops take longer to mature. If my bush beans take 50 days in June and July, they may take 60 days in August and September—if I get a crop before it snows! That means I stop seeding heat-loving crops by mid-July,
Another problem is getting seed to germinate in the hot, dry soil. Lettuce seeds go dormant at high temperatures. (To “reactivate” them, stick them in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.) I prefer to germinate lettuce indoors where it isn’t as hot (usually), then sow the sprouted seeds. (See my post on pre-germination.)
For other small seeds, I hook up a hose-end mister and set a timer to go on for five minutes, four times a day. That keeps the soil moist and frees me from constant watering. A bit of temporary shade or a scattering of straw mulch (don’t cover the soil completely) helps too.
For some crops, there are alternatives to continued sowing. Often, I plant pole beans at the same time I plant my Providers. (Emerite is my favorite variety—it’s early, and the beans are very long, straight, and tender). Once pole beans start producing, they will continue until frost. Many broccoli varieties send out small florettes along the main stem after the big head has been cut. Cabbage will grow a cluster of small, new heads if you leave the roots in the ground when harvesting.
Or, you can sow different varieties with different “days to harvest.” Some cabbage varieties mature in as little as 48 days, while others can grow for as much as 220 days (from setting out transplants)!
With a growing season as short as ours, it is worth a bit of extra effort to get the most from our gardens. I want to enjoy beans all summer long. And I definitely want to still have lettuce available when those tomatoes finally ripen!