Editor's note: maximize your garden space using succession planting organically.

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by Mort Mather

Succession planting is a way to get double your money's worth out of your garden space. There is cabbage planted in the space where the spinach was this spring and carrots where the early lettuce grew. Barbara planted kale in the space occupied by the early peas. I took the rest of the pea vines to the compost pile yesterday and took down the fence they grew on. Today I'll plant lettuce in that space. I'll also throw in some radishes. This will be the third planting of radishes. If I think of it, I will plant some more in mid to late August. Radishes are about the only vegie that will reach maturity between August and the first frost.

How do I figure I get more bang for my buck? First, the effort that went into preparing the soil doesn't have to be repeated. I have a four-pronged cultivator that I use to stir the soil in the row I'm going to plant to a depth of three or four inches. That is all I do before planting. If transplanting, I just stick in the transplants without any soil preparation. Second, the cultivation or mulching that was used for the first crop has taken care of most of the weeds. There won't be much weed control necessary.

Soil fertility may be a different story as the first crop did take nutrients from the soil. Rains also wash away some nutrients or at least wash them to deeper soil where a seedling's roots may not reach soon enough causing them to struggle for a week or so. That is a possible problem but more so with water soluble chemical fertilizers than with organic fertilizers. I have more of a problem with soil fertility in the early spring before the soil microorganisms become active than I do at this time of year. I won't be doing anything to help my succession crops unless I notice them looking hungry.

How do plants "look hungry"? Their leaves will be yellow, or the tips curled and brown, or discolored between the leaf veins or the plants will be stunted. When a plant looks hungry it is time for emergency action. That is not as drastic as it sounds. They can be fed by spraying or sprinkling liquid seaweed or fish emulsion on their leaves.

I could tell you the difference between a leaf on a plant with a nitrogen deficiency and one with a phosphorus deficiency but you wouldn't remember any better than I and even if you could tell the difference it is more than a little silly to try micro-mixing plant nutrients. If you have any leaf strangeness, even if it is from a disease, try foliar feeding to help the crop this year and get a soil test so you can fix the problem next year.

We will probably have the best fall lettuce this year of any year. The reason is that we don't have much lettuce now. It is more difficult to plant succession crops if you are enjoying the garden's bounty. We actually bought some lettuce last week. That is unheard of in our house in July. I certainly plan to make up for that in September.

ŠJuly 26, 1998


Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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