Please, don’t take a seat
Hello, my name is El, and I am a succession planter. When one thing is harvested, I plant more.
This mostly works with things that have short lifespans to begin with: usually, in the veg garden, this means the non-fruiting plants like lettuce and carrots (grown for leaves and roots respectively) or fruiting things whose period of productivity is best if it’s ridden in a wave (think bush beans, or some cucumbers, which come ripe at once).
One notices, though, that some things, some whole garden beds, are best if they’re also ridden in waves. Some of my spring crops are ready to be pulled out and not resown, like the onions, the peas, the favas, and early cabbage and broccoli. Their season (as far as I am concerned) can happily be finished. I have plans for the real estate they’re vacating. Mostly, though, I am watching the temperature of the soil.
What? Soil temperature? Are you telling me I also need to worry about soil temperature, El? Don’t we have enough to juggle with, enough to learn about vegetable gardening to NOT worry things like how hot the soil is getting?
Well, yes. Don’t worry about soil temperature. There is something to know about each and every seed, though, be they flowers, veggies or weeds: Each one has a soil temperature bell curve attached to it which dictates its germination. There is a reason I hold off on planting lettuce again until mid-August: the seeds won’t sprout! If I wait until then, they will. Almost no seed (except some weeds of course) germinates when the soil gets and stays above 85*. Even if the air temperature is nowhere near 85* (like here most days) the soil itself is, especially if it’s unshaded and unmulched. But, yes. Onions surprisingly will germinate and grow in soil that’s 45*, sometimes colder. Tomatoes like it between 70-80*. Lettuce 50-65*. If it’s hotter or colder than this, they do sprout and grow, but it’s not ideal (thus, the bell curve).
I do have fall crops, though. This weekend, I will make a second sowing of broccoli and summer squash. Some of the broccoli will live on, happily, in the greenhouse all winter. I usually get squash bugs on my zucchini and summer squash so I make a second planting of them; I find they do better in the cool of autumn, that, and I freeze parts of this batch. There are other things, too, that just like autumn more than spring and the heat of summer. In the brassica family, this includes rutabagas, kohlrabi, and turnips. Fennel and dill are also on my list, as is escarole, sugarloaf chickory, radicchio, and more parsley for the greenhouse. And I will plant more peas. They hate me for doing it, but it’s usually mid-July when I set aside an area for them. As long as I keep them well watered, they will blossom the first week of September.
(Oh, and there are the greenhouse plantings to consider, too! That’s a separate field of consideration, though.)
Anyway, there’s lots to do, as you can see. I find that having a greenhouse does help me relax a bit about when things NEED to be planted (my sweet corn, for example, is only ankle-high), but it hasn’t made me less of the mad sower I have always been. It’s fun, I think, getting this much productivity out of my gardens. (No Soil Left Unplanted, the unofficial motto.)
How do you monitor the soil temperature? Wouldn’t that be a perfect job for a small PC with wireless sensors? I’m considering building an automatic watering system based on the humidity of the soil to increase the yield.
Hah! Well, Thomas, I have a website at an agricultural station near me to do it for me. It manages rainfall, soil temperature, potential evapotranspiration, etc.; in other words, more information than I would ever really need. It’s located 2 miles from my house so it’s really accurate for me too.
excellent motto! I’ve been busy tucking seeds into any empty space made by a harvested/eaten head of lettuce in the past couple of weeks. I look forward to a time when I don’t work outside of the home so I can stay on top of it to my real standards.
El, thanks so much for answering my questions with this post!
Talk about lost knowledge that should be handed down, generation to generation! I really appreciate your blog! Please let us know if you have any good book suggestions about succession planting.
Humm. Soil temp has always mystified me here on the left coast. Nights continue to be in the low 60’s, days occasionally reach 80, but more often hover between 68 and 70. And then there’s the fog keeping everything cooled down until noonish – and powdery mildew on everything that is susceptible. This year seems to have more hot days than usual.
I think it might help if I actually got a thermometer before I start my fall planting – instead of scratching my head and wondering if I’m too early or too late…
Kelly, I must warn you if you ever do work at home your standards will change, most likely your home cleanliness standards will change. Mine go to shite when it’s gardening season. Now that I have greenhouses, that means it’s a year-round thing 😉 But yes, you’re doing the best thing, maximizing your space. I felt for your peppers but completely understood your needs!
Hey Amanda. Most of my best books on the subject aren’t really on the subject at all, but more on plant growth itself (I’m thinking Seed to Seed). I have kind of moved beyond the method I am about to suggest but it worked well for us the three years previous to this one. (Now I am aiming for massive storage so I do massive plantings, then pull entire beds and replant whole.) But one way to ensure a continuous harvest, with the side benefit of taking the least amount of time at any one time, is to plant stuff every two weeks. Plant three rows of bush green beans in a bed, leaving the rest blank. Fill the bed in over 2 week increments. Harvest over those 2 week increments, and when they’re done, plant something else. Three rows should keep you guys in dinner for a bit until the next batch ripens. I did this for years as I said and it was fun, kept the dinners interesting.
Hayden, yes, that is a puzzle. I will say the seeds want to grow; what you suggest is that it might just take you a lot more time. Check your ag sites; I’m sure Cal State hosts something for your area. California seems to grow vegetables, if I recall 😉
Just wanted to say thanks for the advice and tips. I’ve been learning a good bit about gardening from reading your posts.
Jessica: thank you! I am *so* all about the food, you know 🙂
Thanks so much for all your great gardening tips!
yes, LOL, CA grows veggies. a bit! Even the bay area grows them, it’s just puzzling to figure out since the temp is at odds with the day lengths. In other words, every thing I know is wrong. I think you’re right, I’ll check the UC Davis site and see what they advise. And take your advice about the thermometer business.