Succession planting, or organizing crops so that you have a continuous harvest of the plants you want, is a key strategy for small farmers looking to maximize the availability of certain crops throughout the season. It's also a big part of any homesteading or hobby farming family's plan for the most fresh produce over the greatest period of time.
Learning how to use succession planting does take some trial and error, especially in terms of fine-tuning it for your particular farm's needs. But there are some basic strategies you can use to tweak your farm's output to fit your marketing plan.
Know Your Plants
The first step in designing a planting calendar for your farm is knowing some key information about each variety of crop you're growing. Make sure you note:
- days to harvest
- days of production - how long each plant produces
- whether frost-tolerant or frost-sensitive
Make a list, spreadsheet or database of this information to refer to in the next steps.
Draw a Map of Your Planting Scheme
For succession planting to work, you must also know where you're putting each plant in your garden, whether you use raised beds or traditional rows. But you won't have just one drawing, because you will replant certain crops throughout the season. Draw three diagrams of your plans, one for spring, one for summer, and one for fall. If you use a high tunnel or other season extension strategies, make a fourth, for winter.
In each of your three diagrams, begin plugging in vegetables, consulting your database or list from the previous step. Use pencil, feel free to erase, play with things. It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle as you figure out where things fit best, and consider other things like which crops will shade others, which require full sun and which partial shade, and so on.
Crop rotation should also be considered, but if you're just starting out, that may seem overwhelming. Just try to rotate things so that each season, plants move into a space where nothing related or in the same family grew the year before, to minimize disease.
Create a Planting Schedule
Once you've made a list of all the crops you are growing and the key information about each plant's growing cycle and drawn out their place in each bed, you can begin to map your diagram to a planting calendar, scheduling when you will plant and harvest each variety. For example, if you know you want to seed cilantro every 30 days for a continuous harvest, you could place "seed cilantro" as a task for the first of every month.
Sync With the Biodynamic Calendar
Biodynamic farming is a type of sustainable farming practice that uses the cycles of the moon and other factors to determine ideal planting times for specific crops, among other things. If you want to make use of biodynamic cycles to maximize your production, first overlay the biodynamic planting cycles on your calendar, then use the categories as a guide for scheduling your planting times. For example, schedule basil to be planted during days that are marked ideal for planting leafy plants.
Follow Your Schedule and Keep a Journal
Now that you've made a plan, it's as easy as sticking to it and noticing what happens. Keeping a farm journal will help you reflect on the successes and struggles that arise with your plan. Make sure you keep it handy so that you can jot down thoughts and ideas for improving your succession planting plan.
For example, if a particular lettuce variety bolted, leaving you with a blank spot where you had hoped to have a continuous cut harvest for the farmers market, you can make a note of this in your journal. Next year when you grab your farm notebook in the middle of winter to eagerly plan your next season, you can reread this information and make a new choice that fits your farm goals better.