Many new gardeners don’t understand crop succession and how it will produce so much more from any garden or allotment. Crop succession is simply the succession of crops grown in a spot over the year (as opposed to crop rotation which is the crops grown in successive years).
Crop succession is not to be confused with successional sowing which is sowing the same crop every few weeks to ensure you have crops to harvest over the season. For example we are often told to sow lettuce or carrots every few weeks to ensure we have a succession of those crops.
Crop succession is how one crop follows another in the same bed or plot of land. Many new growers think that the season is just one crop long. So they plant, say, potatoes or peas and harvest them with no thought as to what to grow next in THAT year. Their minds are often more concerned with the crop rotation and what to grow next year. That means they miss a trick. They miss out on growing a second or even third crop on that land in the same year.
Crop Succession Examples
For example, my early potatoes are planted in early- mid March here in my part of Devon. Ten weeks later I can harvest early potatoes … that means I harvest in June and then have an empty space in my garden. What do I do with the space?
And my maincrop potatoes get planted around the same time but are lifted 20 weeks later. So roughly late August or September. What do I do with the empty space?
And the same applies to the land I am clearing of late leeks in April-May. What do I do with that land?
Of course the time you plant and harvest will depend on your location and last frost. But the principle is the same wherever you grow veg crops.
It would be a pity to leave the land empty after growing just one crop each year. We can maximise cropping by following the first crop with a second or even third one. If we do this gardening magic happens.
No longer are we thinking in terms of a one crop season or year. We now have a garden that produces all year and is highly productive. It’s how gardeners in World War II were taught to Dig For Victory. And it’s something we need to do now if we are to have productive plots.
So what do we grow as second or even third crops?
After my potatoes are lifted in June I’m ready with module grown lettuce to plant a catch crop of lettuce. And after they have been harvested, say, 6-8 weeks later. I’ll be thinking about planting winter cabbage. Or I could direct drill spring cabbage if I didn’t want to grow them in modules or beds.
Alternatively after my early potatoes I could plant Brussels sprouts. And if I wanted to follow later potatoes with sprouts I could plant rows of sprouts between the potato rows and have both growing at once. It means I have to be a bit more careful with digging the spuds but on a garden scale it’s not a problem.
The above principle applies to all crops. For example I grow overwintered peas that are harvested in May most years. I can easily drill a crop of carrots after them.
And when I grew celery outdoors on a commercial scale we used to incorporate huge quantities of manure in the soil before planting celery outdoors in March (this was in Bedfordshire and often the frost and wind would whip the leaves off the celery before it got well established but they always recovered and gave us good crops with celery heads weighing in at 32 ounces (900 grams). Because the soil was very moisture retentive after adding the manure a good follow on crop was courgettes. Imagine 200 courgette plants and how many tons of courgettes they will yield over the next few months. And after they are out of the ground there’s good rich soil in which to grow over wintered spring onion module transplanted in the autumn.
Crop Succession Rules
There are no rules in crop succession except do what works for you. What will work will depend on your soil types, microclimate and the season. Sometimes crops are slower than others. That’s gardening for you. But given a bit of experience and some experimentation you’ll get the idea of what works for you.
Here are a few more ideas that work for me.
Maincrop potatoes could be followed with turnips. They will harvest as turnips greens (tops) over the late winter and early spring. And if you are lucky you’ll also get a few turnips for stews or just to roast.
Broccoli can go follow early potatoes and leeks can follow broad beans. Broad beans can also be followed with various brassicas .. just choose what suits you.
Swedes are one of the brassicas that people often forget. It follows after broad beans really well here in Devon.
Other successional crops include salads like lettuce (How to Grow Lettuce: Handy Hints & Tips), endive and radish, dwarf French beans, finger-sized bunching carrots, module grown beetroot and even a second crop potato bed
And don’t forget all those hardy winter veg such as kale, sprouting broccoli, cabbage, winter salads and winter onions such as Japanese onions and spring onions.
Late catch crops are also worth considering. My preferred time for transplanting leeks is June. But module grown or bed grown leeks transplanted as late as august or even early September give me reasonable yields of smaller veg. And some are available to harvest much later than the maincrop plantings.
Theres more on crop succesion on wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succession_planting