Too often gardeners are swept up in the impetuous whirlwind that is spring planting season, feverishly turning over, planting, and transplanting the garden once the soil can be worked. A good start right out of the gate can be a nice thing. Who doesn’t love to revel in the glory of first tomato of the season bragging rights? Succession planting all season long will provide a consistent flow of produce throughout the season and can be just as important as that first mass planting in spring. Easier said than done. Who can think of planting that late crop of beans and squash when there is so much harvesting to be done? How could I turn my back to that menacing jungle of weeds threatening to overtake my carrot beds to plant a second succession of cukes? Here is a hall pass to excuse you from the daily weeding/thinning ritual. Instead, plant for a few weeks down the road. When spring greens, once so sweet and abundant, are bolted and bitter, having surrendered to the ceaseless heat of summer; and the brief and often overwhelming onslaught of cucumbers has abated and their once vigorous vines have shriveled, you wont regret it.
Bush and pole beans are heat tolerant crops well suited for a summer sowing. Beans will provide a generous yield, however it is so important to wait to plant until at least a week after last spring frost as they are highly sensitive to cold damage. Beans are an important companion plant given their unique ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. Try planting them alongside beets, carrots, celery or corn. Beans will grow quickly once direct seeded into warm soil. Once plants are established, be sure to avoid cultivating the soil around them in wet conditions. Bean mosaic virus is spread by inoculated soil splashing up into the leaves of the bean plant; work the soil around beans when it has been dry for several days. When your garden is bursting at the seams with perfectly crunchy green beans, try to fit a quick pickling session into your schedule. Breaking into a jar of homemade pickled green beans this winter will transport you right back to more bountiful times in the garden.
Some crops are so versatile they can stand being planted right through the rollercoaster ride that is an extended growing season, withstanding blistering highs and blustery lows. Swiss chard, kale, collards and mustard greens are dependable all season greens to plant early, middle and late summer. These greens can be harvested by continually picking off the lower leaves rather than cutting down the entire plant. If you are short on time but wouldn’t like to see these greens go to waste, try making gundru, a Nepalese ferment recipe that simply calls for mustard, collards or kale, bruised and fermented in their own juices. This is a great beginner’s pickle with little effort, perfect for busy summers.
Root crops such as beets and carrots can be planted early and late for a hefty supply all season. The sweetest beets and carrots are the ones harvested after a fall frost; try planting beets and carrots mid summer for a late fall harvest. Your late summer planting of root crops can be stored and eaten fresh over the winter. When faced with an abundance of your first beet and carrot harvest this summer, consider fermentation. Carrots make perfect pickled veggie with lots of snap, perfect for adorning winter cheese plates. Pickled beets will serve as the backbone for hearty Eastern European dishes to keep you warm in the winter months.
Cucumbers and summer squash have a flair for drama; vines rapidly envelop the garden as you greedily watch them take over with a profusion of flowers. Almost overnight this impressive display will crescendo with a fruiting blitzkrieg, leaving you mad with delight swimming in a tidal wave of cucurbits, frantically looking for more counter space, spare time to pickle, or friends to share them with. (Who among us has not received at least one baseball bat sized zucchini from an overwhelmed friend/neighbor at a loss for what to do with the excessive bounty?) Just as you think you never want to see another cucumber or zucchini again, usually the moment you curse the over productive vine for doing its job too well, a sudden halt. The vine has wilted and the plants are spent. You quickly take back all those things you said about too many fruit and wish that during the cucumber frenzy you had taken a few minutes to succession plant just a few more cucurbits for a fall crop, when summer is dwindling and you have a little more time to put up those tasty squash for the winter. Fortunately, it’s the perfect time to plant that second crop of cucumbers and squash. When faced with another glut of squash and cukes in the late summer, don’t feel relegated to just pickling. Zucchini and summer squash can be shredded and frozen for use all winter long, as breads, muffin, latkes, and more. Try breading and freezing for a quick summer squash parmesan all winter long.
When the heat of summer is peaking and the garden seems to languish in the hot sun, it can seem almost cruel to plant a small seedling out into that heat. One herb in particular loves the challenge. Basil will produce sweet, tender leaves in the morbid heat. Plant basil right now to harvest bunches of leaves for pesto or sauces. You can make large peso batches and freeze them in ice cube trays, then transfer them to plastic bags in the freezer for a single serving size pesto. Thai basil is also incredibly heat tolerant and can be made into Thai sauces and put up for later use.
Granting yourself a quick reprieve from the weeding, staking, thinning, harvesting rush this summer to succession seed will certainly pay off. A steady supply and a full pantry for the winter means garden fresh food all year long, Food security is so much more rewarding than a spotless garden devoid of weeds.