|Photo by Norman A. Plate for sunset.com.|
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Mother Earth News in 1994, and is as relevant as ever even 17 years later.
Most gardeners I know plant in late spring and then sit back and watch their gardens grow. Our family, on the other hand, keeps planting and planting and planting. As a result, while others complain about the price of lettuce, we're enjoying virtually free salads. While others are using up the last of the season's green tomatoes, our family is still slicing into juicy, ripe, freshly picked tomatoes.
No, we aren't gardening geniuses. We just happen to prefer fresh vegetables, so we take advantage of every trick in the book to keep our veggies growing. Here are 14 ways you too can extend your gardening season.
1. Know your garden’s microclimate.
Not only does the weather change from year to year, but mini areas within your garden may differ significantly from one another. Is part of your garden shaded by trees or buildings? Is some area shielded from cold or drying wind by a fence or shrubs? Are there low spots where cold air and frost readily settle? Select vegetables described as growing best in your general climate. If your garden has more than one microclimate, try different varieties in different spots. Some may do better than others in certain spots; some may do better one year than in the next.
2. Plant often.
Successive planting is the best way to stretch the harvest over a period of time. One successive planting method is to simultaneously sow seeds and set out started seedlings of the same variety. The transplants will be ready for harvest before the direct-seeded veggies are. Another successive planting method is to replant at periodic intervals. Sow radishes and spinach once a week; sow beans, beets, carrots, scallions, and salad greens every two weeks; sow cucumbers and summer squash once a month. Since you can't tell in advance just how warm or cool the season will be, keep planting until seeds stop sprouting well.
A third method for ensuring a successive harvest is to sow seeds of several different varieties that mature at different rates. Planting rows of different varieties is an easy way to extend the harvest of corn and peas. For carrots, radishes, and salad greens, you have the option of mixing the seeds of different varieties together and planting them all in the same row. In our garden we get the greatest variety of salad greens over the longest period of time by both mixing different kinds of lettuce seed together and planting the mix every two weeks. We do the same with radishes. When our weather suddenly turns hot (as it does every year), some varieties will run for cover, while others continue supplying us with fresh salads for a few weeks longer.