Successional Planting of Vegetables Is One Of The Ways To Maximise Crop Yields On Any Plot of Land, Container or Even Windowsill. Here Are My Successional Planting of Vegetables Tips

With price inflation and more shortages being more self reliant is vital. The Successional Planting of Vegetables is about being able to maximise the output of every square inch of growing area makes more sense than ever.

Tomatoes Can be part of a Successional Planting of Vegetables programme
Once tomatoes are being picked its easy to stand some pots of leaf crops on the ground below them. Provided the toms are deleted correctly try, there will often be enough light.

But how can we maximise crop yields? My advice it to ensure every square inch produces as many crops as it can. And that means successional sowing, successional planting, successional harvesting all the way through the year. And it’s easier than you might think.

What Is Successional Growing of Vegetables?

Simply put its filling all our garden space with crops all year. Bare soil isn’t good for many reasons; it gives weeds a chance to get in, the soil microfauna starts to die and we haven’t a crop to harvest.

The secret behind succession growing is to plan and prepare. What you are trying to do is to get a crop in the ground as soon as the previous one is harvested. I sometimes do that in minutes, and sometimes it takes a few hours. But it can be done quickly.

And sometimes we can plant the subsequent crop before harvesting the previous one. For example my father always planted sprouts or cabbages in between the potato rows as the main crop died back. and he’d put in a row of peas between his sprouts before he finished harvesting the sprouts. Once the sprouts finished he’d take a hatchet and cut the sprouts off at ground level so the peas had room to grow. Often the peas were a foot high before the last sprouts were cut off.

Can I Get a Fast Turn Around Of Crops?

Yes. If plants have been started in modules they have had several weeks growth in the module before planting out. So you’ve “gained” that time rather than sowing direct in the soil.

Peas just 16 days after sowing on July 3rd are ready for harvest as pea shoots.
Peas just 16 days after sowing on July 3rd are ready for harvest as pea shoots.

And there’s another way in which to get fast turnaround. Some crops will go from seed to harvest ready in a very short time. The peas in the photo were planted in a container on July 3rd and this is them on July 19th. Just 16 days after sowing I’ll be using them as pea shoots in tonights dinner. If I harvest these correctly they will keep growing and give me pea shoots for several weeks.

I’m sowing some more today to give me a succession of pea shoots for when these finish over the rest of the summer.

The Benefits of Successional Growing

When I learnt the above techniques from my father he was actually teaching me how to make the garden more productive, reduce weeds, ensure we had veg to harvest, protect the soil from erosion and windblown as well as increasing soil biodiversity and sequestering carbon. In short it means more crops and better soil.

Successional growing of veg is often seen as an art and a science wrapped in mystery, smoke and mirrors. But it needn’t be if you know a few tricks and are prepared to occasionally fail. I say fail because growing isn’t ever going to be perfect, weather conditions change and crops sometimes fail. But that’s not to say you’ll fail often. provided you follow the simple tips I’m about to reveal.

But before I explain them, I’ve confession. Even though I grew commercial crops for years, I didn’t get it 100% perfect all the time. I’m human and sometimes got it wrong. So don’t beat yourself up if your successional crops aren’t perfect all the time.

What Garden Based Successional Growing Isn’t

It isn’t growing one crop a year. Farming often does that but gardeners can do better. In farming we often grow arable crop after arable crop but tend to harvest something just once a year.

Mono culture crop rotation: an ear of Wheat

In your garden you can get more than one crop. Some might only be catch crops and be in and out very quickly, and others might be in the ground much longer, but you will get more than one crop a year if your successionally grow.

Crops that tend to sit in the ground for a long time are things like leeks. You could transplant in say July and not harvest until the spring or early summer. That could be 10 months or so. But once that crop is out you could still plant module raised lettuce and get a second crop in the 12 month period. And if you don’t want lettuce consider all the other leaf crops you could grow, from fenugreek and mizuna to turnips tops. They all mature in weeks from transplanting and will give that second crop.

But you could do far better than two crops. We could grow 3, 4, or even 5 crops a year on one plot of land. I’ll explain how in moment.

A Commercial Example of Successional Planting of Vegetables .. & Their Cropping

Though this is a commercial example, I now follow the same principles in my amateur greenhouse.

My commercial greenhouses were a mix of quite old “Dutch light” structures and the more modern Venlo type greenhouse. The old ones were far from airtight and were not suitable for heating to grow long season crops of tomatoes etc.

So I used block grown lettuce to plant in September and harvest before Christmas (block grown are similar to module grown plants). Then I planted another crop lettuce that, without heat, would harvest approx April 1st. Then I clearddthat crop and planted a cold crop of short season tomatoes. These were raised in 7cm blocks in. ahead propagation house and planted around April 10th. In Bedfordshire, where I lived, we had frosts up to May23rd, but the toms were protected enough by the glass to survive these conditions. We would start harvesting tby mid July and rip the crop put to repeat the cycle in September. This combination of three successional crops was the most profitable considering the condition of the  greenhouses. Growing heritage toms, Moneymaker, was away to get a premium on the tom crop.

Commercial lettuce grown as a succession crop.

Converting Commercial Practice Into Amateur Practice

Using the above as a template I now grow winter salads in my greenhouse. We have around 22 varieties growing at any time and harvest every month. Being in the south of England helps as out climate is mld. but I know that many species will grow across the country, though not yield quite a s well as mine.

In April I plant a mix of toms, cues and other crops. All are module grown tonsure a quick turnaround.

In September I rip out the toms and replace with a ranger of salad crops. Then it’s back to water cropping as I repeat the cycle.

Because I grow in containers in my greenhouse I have lots of “plots” where I can vary the above very slightly. For example, if I have a crop of autumn lettuce that I’m harvesting as leaves rather than heads, and they are still going strong, I don’t replace them. I just let them continue. Some last all winter, even with harvesting on a regular basis.

The beauty of this system is that I can treat each container in isolation and as soon as it need replacing I can pop a new batch of module grown plants in. the downside is that I sometimes have surplus module grown plants. Thats not a real problem as I can often plant them outdoors or can harvest them as baby plants or microgreens. Nothing gets wasted.

How Long Do Module Grown Crops Take To Grow?

The beauty of growing module raised plants as opposed to direct sowing is that they take up less space and are only put into modules when something is being ripped out. I often rip one crop out and replant within minutes.

But that means I need replacement modules ready for planting. And they ideally need to be at just the right size to transplant. Too big and they take an age to get going, and too small and they are taking up valuable harvesting space.

Various Vegetable Plants ready for planting  its part of my Successional Planting of Vegetables programme.
Module grown salads for my greenhouse and outdoor planting in July

Judging this is an art. But one where certain rules apply and its a n art that can be learnt.

The speed of germination and growth depends mainly on temperature and day length. So in mid summer a batch of seed scan go from seed to transplanting in 13-14 days.  But in winter it may take 5-6 weeks. It will depend on the pant type as well. Some grow faster than others. Crops such as Mizuna grow very fast, coriander is a bit slower and lettuce a bit slower again. Chinese cabbage and Pak choi are also fairly fast. Some crops do better in cooler weather.

Successional Planting of Vegetables.. Coriander ready for planting
Module sown coriander after 13 days in July

I can’t tell you the exact timings you need for each crop. But you will learn these over time. The secret is to experiment and record everything. For example you could try sowing a pinch of seed every week for a year and see how long each batch takes. It sounds laborious, but I didn’t promise learning this stuff was easy. By doing this you will again a lot of experience. And once you’ve sussed it with lettuce, try other crops.

Successional Planting of Vegetables with module raised plants
Module sown Asian leaves about to be planted .. 13 days after sowing in July

For example the seedlings in the image above were sown 10 days before being photographed. This was in July, when growth is rapid. In my case they are going into an empty bed as I was on holiday for a month and didn’t maintain my garden for that time.

But they could equally be meant to fill a bed I intend to clear in the next 1-2 days. After that, if left in the modules, they’ll slow down due to lack of light, feed, space etc. So I need to know that replacement plants take ten days to grow and sow ten days before they are needed at this time of year.

But they don’t always take ten days. If sow in February they’d take around 20-24 days depending on the light conditions. I could reduce that with a growth lamp, though I never use one.

When I grew lettuce commercially the crop planted in October in a cold greenhouse would harvest on April 1 with a variation of 1-2 days either side. So the replacement crop would be needed on April 3-4. It would take around 24 days to grow to the size I needed. So we just worked back to decide which day to sow.

The next crop would harvest in 38-40 days but the young plants would now take 12-14 days to grow to size as the weather would be warmer and days longer (in theory).
Getting this right takes a lot of experience, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right every time.

I’ll be updating this post in the near future. In the meantime why not join my Facebook gardening groups.

2 thoughts on “How To Succeed at Successional Planting of Vegetables

  1. Michael howard says:

    Thanks for the article Stefan.I had lettuce,Pak Choi beetroot in my greenhouse last winter for the first time so more experiments this year.What.Variety of lettuce did you use at different times of the year? Lastly it’s my hope your article will stimulate discussion and sharing of successes on your Facebook site

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      Hi Michael
      I tend to grow Lobjoits Cos during spring and summer as their upright habit is good for picking individual leaves. Then I like semi-Cos type such as Winter Density in winter. Lobjoits don’t like winter conditions and often get botrytis. I’m also keen on various iceberg type lettuce and varieties tend to change a lot. But the forerunner, Lakeland is also reasonable good.
      Most of the butterhead types I grew commercially, such as Mir, are no longer available. Times move on.

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