Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Succession Success

It's a bad thing when the introductory post contains such a bad joke, but this is the way, alas, my brain works.

Every year, I tell myself things as I'm digging in the garden. Things like "Remember to buy straw for mulch next time," "Always plant more leeks," "You eat more kale than you want to admit; plant more," "Don't ever grow broccoli raab again," you know, tips, reminders, encouragments.

Sometimes I remember to write them down.

One, however, I keep forgetting not only to jot down, but to do. The practice of sowing additional crops every few weeks, so you always have something coming along in the garden is called succession planting. For things like head lettuce, where you'll cut off the entire plant, or carrots, this makes good sense. You want more coming along to replace the plants you consume. It also makes sense because you don't want bare ground sitting in the garden. That allows nitrogen to escape into the air, weeds to get a toehold in your garden, and at least for me, makes me feel like I'm not doing my best as a gardener growing abundance. No plants = no food or flowers. I suppose diligent cover cropping would help, too. That's often on my list.

What usually happens, though, is I'll get the bug and sit down and start my seeds inside. Not only do I concentrate water and food in a tiny area for a while, but I get to see what's sprouting well, and let the babies get big enough to fight off attacks outside (although nothing can withstand a fat, scratching hen. Ask me how I know). It looks a little like this:

A mix of flats, pots, and down at the bottom, yogurt containers. I'm almost ready to move the cucumbers into bigger pots too.

Then, as these grow and get planted out, ideally, more things would take their places, so that not only in the garden, but in the garage, crops would be growing in stairstep fashion, like these young True Siberian kales, from Seeds of Change:

Right behind these beauties is this, adult True Siberian. In fact, I harvested a pound of this (after I stripped the stems -- it was easily 2.5 pounds before) today:

Here, in between some broccoli, are young Lacinato kale plants:

Ideally, there would be a host of these, all in different stages of maturity. Instead, I have that little box of small -- maybe 6" at most -- baby kale, and in another part of the garden, this:

Two separate plantings of the same kale, romping to seed. I just might let it go, as I am curious about what these seeds would do next year, but the principle remains the same: if I don't stay on top of this, I end up with big gaps in my planting and my harvest.

Even though we can literally grow year-round here, this is mostly a problem with winter crops. There aren't many greens I enjoy a lot that do well in the summer. Some chard, and I do have to remember to sow more about halfway through, but mostly it's not a problem with fruiting plants. Tomatoes and pumpkins produce a lot per plant, and over a longish period, peppers do the same. Oddly enough, summer squash is something I should make a note of to reseed a few weeks into the season. We get powerful powdery mildew that kills off the plants, and it would be nice to deliver a coup de grace and put out new, happy plants before that happens.

What sneaks up on me in the summer, while I'm swanning around gobbling fresh basil and trying to keep up with the beans, is, of course, fall crops. Here we can plant broccoli starting in October, for an early winter crop, which means -- taaa daa! planting inside in late July/early August. No garden centers carry broccoli plants then.

Just like my garden, my garden record keeping is a process. Every year I'm a little more complete, a little more helpful to myself -- this year I've started making notations in the side margins: bees! seeds! weeds! so I can treat it like an index next year. I'm refinining a "to do" calendar, based on what I wish I had done.

And for this blog, I'm starting this spring to keep accurate records: numbers of eggs, pounds of kale, heads of lettuce. It's not perfect, and I think there are better methods, than the ones I'm trying now, but every garden is about growth.


Susan said...

This is so exciting! I'm looking forward to following your progress and learning what I should be planting. I spent one of my sick days drawing a sun map of the garden and I found a spot that gets 6 hours of sunlight.

Esperanza said...

This is such a great idea! I love the food counter side bar.

Susan said...

Where do you get your seeds?

patricia said...

So will this evolve into a little sisterly competition? I grew more kale than you, nanny nanny naa naa!

I am so bad about succession cropping; I tend to garden in spurts. Maybe you can inspire me to stay on top of it.

I love that you've harvested six snow peas. Are you sure it wasn't five? Or seven?