Succession planting is a big part of our farm operation. Without administering this concept into our overall business plan, we would not be able to provide quality produce to our customers. In this blog article we will discuss what succession planting is and why it is important.
Succession planting is, by its very name, the idea of planting crops on a staggered schedule instead of all at once. The idea is to stretch out the availability of a product over a period of time as opposed to having everything come in at once. The concept is integral to farmers, especially small farmers, in carrying a product over a longer term to assist with profits. We will use peas and tomatoes as our examples, since they grow at two different times, and both were heavily invested crops for us this year.
Our sugar peas went in the ground the first week of March. Peas are great because they can take a beating in cold weather well below freezing. But do horribly in hot weather. Our goal was to get 6 rows in that first planting weekend at 20 feet in length. We punched holes in the ground 3″ apart using a large round stake, dropped the seed in, back filled holes with dirt, and then watered. Given how well our peas sold last year, our intent was to add another four rows to give us our extended crop. Two weeks later we added the other four lines of peas.
By the end of March, the first planting was up and starting to run on the lines we created. We will say that peas need stronger stakes and lines to run on, so next year we will use t-bar and a heavier wire as the peas bent the bamboo poles very easily making picking difficult. Since the frost at the end of March was severe, we did add some fish emulsion to help them bounce back. Peas, as well as legumes in general, do not need heavy fertilizers. Since the frost really took its toll on these, I wanted to give them a quick shot of nitrogen. Thankfully, the peas all bounced back and exceeded our expectations in yield.
Our second two sets of rows, planted 21 days later, did very well too. These had yet to sprout when the freeze hit, so the plants came around fast as the ground warmed up, which means faster sprouts. The succession rows did exceptionally well and grew fairly fast to almost catch up to the first set. It goes to show you that weather stresses, and human error that places stress on plants, can really impact growth and production. So learn all there is to know on a particular plant and try to avoid most mistakes. You cannot do anything about weather, so some things are just up to the elements.
As for our tomatoes, we wanted to have a major yield during the typical “tomato month” of July and have the availability be sustainable to the first week of September. (Actually, we were rewarded this year with tomatoes two weeks earlier than expected, which was nice, and the first farm to sell tomatoes to Hub City’s Mobile Market.) We planted out first 150 tomatoes on May 2 as the last average frost date had passed and night temps were staying above the mid 60s. Then 7 days later, we planted another 150 in a separate garden area. And the next weekend another 100 went in (14 days). We discussed in an early blog, here, so if you want a refresher on general tomato planting, then take another read. Our goal was to plant over 400 for the year, but space was an issue as we still had peas in the designated area marked for the rest of our tomatoes to finish off our 400 goal. Two weeks after getting our majority in, we started another overrun of what we had left that we did not plan on putting in the ground. We used some available space in another garden and then created more space, because, hey, we had a tiller we borrowed and it was just sitting there idle, that we plan to put blueberry bushes in, but since that was a few months off, we added another row, or two, of Roma tomatoes as well as some okra on the outside of that row. The idea here is to show the intervals, which will in turn extend the longevity of our harvest.
Four weeks later (30 days), we cut down all of the peas when their production stopped, its best to cut these off at the bottom stem to release the nitrogen into the soil since peas are a great nitrogen fixer, and then let it sit vacant for a few days. After that, we prepped that space as we usually do by pulling weeds, adding a ground cover (contractor paper with straw between rows for weed/grass control), then starting digging holes for the plants originally set aside for this area. We choose to do primarily Roma, Red Cherry, and Black Cherry in this area since these have been our best sellers in the past. Honestly, this works with every crop as long as you are watching for the last and first frost dates. What also helps it to have mature plants ready for transplanting. Sowing from seed takes longer and you can run into, or out of, time for that plant to give its yield. We almost always recommend doing transplants for most types as it gives you at least a 7-10 day head start.
So, as a recap, and hopefully you have been able to draw a picture by our writing, the common method for succession plant is the 7,10,14,21,30 day intervals. Know your germination rates of plants and label well so you know what is ready to go in next. And the number of days until first fruits. This will allow you to continue to plant the same crop for an extended yield. Finally, keep in mind some spring plants that give fruit in the summer do not do well with excessive heat (e.g., cucumbers, squash, etc.), so you can plant some things where shade exists to help protect the plants. More information on succession planting can be found here as well.