Successional Sowing - How to Get The Most From Your Raised Beds
Sometimes, less is more, so whether you have an allotment, large kitchen garden or just a single raised bed, you should use successional sowing to ensure a steady, regular and appropriate supply of vegetable throughout the growing season, rather than a glut all at once. Basically, using the principle of little and often, it involves extending your harvest by sowing a row every few weeks or so. Quick growing crops such as French beans, peas, spinach, salads and carrots lend themselves to this way of cultivation. In this way you can ensure a regular, fresh supply of vegetables that otherwise would perish quickly under storage conditions.
Other varieties that are prone to bolting (growing less leaves and moving into flower and seed production) such as rocket, spinach, broccoli, cilantro, basil, cabbage and lettuce especially need to be sown successionally.
If you sow the longer fruiting crops such as courgette, cucumbers and runner beans and sweet corn in two batches, spaced a few weeks apart, you can optimise produce availability well into the autumn. There are four key methods for successional planting.
1) Same Crop, staggered plantings. Here you need to space out your plantings of the same crop, to around every 2-4 weeks, or when the plants from the preceding sowings are well developed, with four true leaves for leafy crops, or are around 5cm (2 inches) high in the case of peas or 10cm tall (4 inches) for beans. Many vegetable put all their effort into producing a first flush of produce and then fade throughout the season, giving smaller and weaker yields. By employing a staggered approach, sowing more seeds as the first plants start to fade, you will ensure a regular supply of optimum produce over a longer period. Harvest mature, whole plants once they reach their peak, which will get light, water and space to neighbouring plants and makes room for more sowings.
2) Different vegetables Some crops, like peas, have a short growing season, so the space they took up can be used to grow a later season plant such as aubergines.
3) Shared Space Many vegetable can be grown side by side very well, and may even help control pests, such as growing quick maturing radishes, which loosen the soil, ready for late sprouting carrots. Plus growing leeks or spring onions next to carrots may help to deter carrot fly. If you are really short of space, why not sow some veggies between your flowers in the borders! There are no rules to say you have to keep them separate and a few lettuce plants can look very good interspersed amongst the flowers!
Variety is the spice of life and if you want to keep a regular supply of salads going this summer, chose a range of varieties for continuous cropping. Lettuce "Suzan " and "Webbs Wonderful" which is slow to run to seed, are ideal for successional sowing, but the main crop, later maturing varieties are also capable of being sown little and often, and once mature, they remain in good condition for longer.
If sowing outdoors, sowings can be made every one to four weeks, from Mid-April through to late summer. In June, it is the time to grow salads on a cut and come again basis, harvesting the larger leaves by cutting them as required, leaving the smaller leaves to grow on for cutting later on. Then sow another crop about three weeks later.
Sow seeds thinly, in short rows, and if the seed is very fine, use shallow drills, watered first, prior to sowing. Don't forget to label your rows, and space apart according to the instructions on the seed packet. By keeping an eye on how well the seeds are growing, you can work out when to re sow. Don't forget to keep plants well watered.
As with any sowing, ensure the soil is well dug in with organic matter (except for carrot sowing, as it makes them fork and grow into weird shapes!).
If you are using smaller sized wooden planters use baby varieties such as carrot "Paris Market" an early maturing type that has round smooth roots that can be harvested at 2- 3cm diameter. It grows well in shallow soil as does "Early Market" a shorter stump rooted variety. Baby beet "Pablo F1" is an excellent deep red, globe rooted beetroot that can be harvested when they are about an inch in diameter or grown on as a main crop. Perfect for salads.
Some cultivars do not need to be sown successionally, such as as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes as they produce fruits over a long period, hence are self regulating. Similarly, those that store well, like onions and garlic, do not need to be sown successionally either, neither do varieties that need longer to mature, like sprouts and leeks, which are best left to over winter in the ground, for picking as required.