Second Crops to Extend the Growing Season

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Sprouting broccoli is a popular – and attractive – second crop

The arrival of summer lulls us into a false sense of security. The garden is growing well, vegetable beds are filling out and harvests are tantalizingly close. But while no one wants to hear it, the truth is that this is precisely the time to look ahead to winter, especially if we want the harvests to continue long after the warmth has faded.

My vegetable garden is looking pretty good at the moment. There’s lots to enjoy already and even more promise besides. But pride comes before a fall, and if I’m to keep this picture of productivity going then I must get sowing once again – and pronto!

Follow On with Succession Crops

Crops that follow on from earlier season vegetables are called succession crops, second crops or, my preference, follow-on crops. It doesn’t really matter what you call them though, the idea is the same: as one crop finishes, another goes in.

Healthy young leeks ready for planting in midsummer

Think about what’s growing in your garden right now. You probably have some salad leaves, radishes, potatoes, peas, various rows of root vegetables like beets, and maybe some vegetables holding on from last year: cabbage, kale and chard, for example. Now think about when these will be finished; suddenly the second half of summer seems rather bare.

The forward-thinking gardener isn’t lulled into complacency by the current abundance. Careful planning and a little forethought will show there’s plenty of potential beyond summer’s easy living, but only if we get a move on!

Where to Start Second Crops

Keeping the soil covered as much as possible is always a worthy aim. It means fewer weeds and a healthier environment below ground. Second crops help to minimise unproductive periods and keep the party going.

Any propagation area will enable a head start while earlier crops are still growing

Typically there is heavy overlap between when the first crops of the season finish and the second crops need sowing. The range of follow-on crops you can grow is therefore considerably wider if you have a propagation area away from the main growing beds. That could be a greenhouse or cold frame, but equally at this warmer time of year anywhere outdoors that is separate from what’s currently in the ground.

Propagation areas will allow a three to six-week head start, ensuring these overlaps can be comfortably accommodated. You can sow into plug trays or seed trays and flats then, if necessary, move young plants on into their own pots to grow on for another week or two before it’s time to plant them into the main growing beds.

Prepare the Ground

Once the first crop is done you can have young plants ready to go in minutes later. Grub out the remnants of the previous crop along with any lurking weeds then push the soil back down.

Transplanted broccoli with a mulch of compost

You’ll give your follow-on vegetables a warm welcome if you also add a thin layer of compost to the surface, which will help feed the soil and ultimately your second crops. Alternatively wait till the transplants have settled in then apply this layer of organic matter as a mulch, which helps trap moisture underneath during the heat of the day.

Some vegetables can, of course, be sown direct into the ground immediately after the old crop has been removed to the compost heap. If the ground is dry and dusty, water into your marked-out seed drills to create a cool, moist environment immediately around the seeds. This will help both germination speed and success.

Second Crop Ideas

At this time of year, with warm days and plenty of daylight, there is lots you can still be sowing and planting.

Bush beans can be sown wherever gaps appear for a quick crop before the end of summer

Vegetables that will be enjoyed before the end of the growing season include salads like lettuce, endive and radish, along with quick-growing bush beans, turnips, finger-sized carrots, beets and second crop potatoes. Then there are the hardy vegetables for harvesting over winter and beyond: brassicas such as kale, sprouting broccoli and cabbage, cold-tolerant winter salads and scallions, maincrop carrots and leeks, sown in spring but ready for planting out now.

Some crops fair best hot on the heels of others, and Barbara Pleasant shares some excellent suggestions for vegetables to succeed peas, potatoes, leafy greens and onion/garlic here.

Whatever you’re doing over the next few days, make the time to sow some second crops. In a few months you will be incredibly thankful for having made the effort to plan ahead – as you sow, so shall you reap.

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