It is beginning to feel like Spring here in North Carolina, and we have finally gotten into some much needed heat. Most vegetable plants thrive in warm if not even hot temperatures, so it is wonderful to feel the warmth of the sun and see the seedlings bursting forth with the hope of fresh veggies.
When I was farming in Massachusetts (Zone 6) and teaching gardening classes, I was surprised that so many people did not know about succession planting, or that they could grow one type of vegetable more than once in a season. Their response to my comments about planting a second batch of peas or green beans or carrots was always one of a puzzled look on their face and a “You plant carrots twice?” shocked question. Being a farmer in North Carolina, Zone 7, for many years, I am use to growing many plantings of certain crops. A farmer in Zones 7 or 8 can grow three plantings of sweet corn, two plantings of potatoes and about six plantings of green beans, if you utilize succession planting.
It is important for home gardeners, whether novice or experienced, to know your growing zone. This is easy to find and is a tremendous help in learning what you can grow and which varieties of each veggie is best for your planting season.
Here is where you can find your agricultural zone by simply entering your zip code.
Once you know your zone, there is a chart that will give you your first frost and last frost dates. By doing some simple math you can determine how many days are in your growing season on average. For my Zone 7a, I have, on average, between 180 to 220 days of growing time. Now if you are adventurous and passionate about growing your own food, this can be extended by 30 to 60 days if you grow under hoop houses or in cold frames or have a small portable greenhouse.
My first bit of wisdom and advice to people who have a desire to grow their own veggies is, do not follow old-time “wives' tales” type of gardening practices. You will hear many gardeners and even experienced farmers say NEVER plant tomatoes before Memorial Day. Well, I always have my tomatoes planted between May 1 to May 15. Now that may not seem like much of a jump to you but you have to remember I have had the seedlings in my greenhouse since February, so I have some good-size plants going, and I always have very early tomatoes.
Once you know how long your growing season is, it is important to choose varieties of veggies that will fit into your window of growing days. For example, the sweet corn I grow in North Carolina cannot be grown in Massachusetts because that corn likes long days of heat; those varieties are called “long day” varieties meaning they require many hours of sunshine (a long day) and also may need 85 days to develop from sowing to harvest.
I like to choose shorter-day varieties of some vegetables so that I am assured a good crop and can possibly have two or three plantings during the entire season, which increases my total production and harvest. I choose green bean varieties that only require between 57 and 65 days. Keep in mind this is an average that the seed companies put on the seed package, and you may get beans faster than that if weather and soil is just right. I plant green beans four to six times, giving me an abundance to can, eat fresh and freeze. I plant three to four plantings of carrots, two plantings of peas, two plantings of broccoli and cabbage, and six to eight plantings of lettuces, spinach and kale.
Reading A Seed Package
Here is an example of a seed package from Botanical Interests seeds. I prefer using this company’s seeds as they are always reliable in germination and offer a great selection of tested and trusted heirloom varieties. I also love their packages! They are not only educational and instructional but very beautiful. So let’s look at this package.
At the top is the name of the variety “BEET – Gourmet Blend” then is the price and weight of seeds. Under that is the first very important bit of information to the gardener. “COOL SEASON” and “65 Days.” This tells you that beets are a cool-season crop, meaning they do not grow well in the high heat of Summer and they prefer cooler temps. Also the package tells you, on average, they will take 65 days to produce beets. So, keeping this in mind, beets need to be sown when soil is workable and will take a light frost but not a hard freeze, so you can sow them about one to two weeks before your average last frost date and again doing a little math, I know that it does not get high heat here in North Carolina until June 1 so I can sow these seeds in two-week successions until about April 1, having started my sowing in late February. Beets can be planted again in late Summer for Fall harvest; this will have them making their beet root in the cooler days of Fall.
On the back of the packages you will find the planting guidelines such as depth to plant seeds and spacing between plants.
Veggies such as lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes and microgreens, as seen here, are quick growing and, even though they like cooler weather to grow, it is possible to get three to four plantings before the temperatures get too hot for these tender plants. Microgreens for example take 25 days from sowing to harvest. Some radish varieties take as little as 21 days.
In some zones, the growing season can be short so planting a favorite vegetable a couple of times is wonderful for us veggie lovers. Succession plantings (planting the same crop 10 to 14 days apart) provides a steady availability of your favorite vegetables and large enough harvests to can or freeze some for the Winter months when you are longing for those fresh homegrown veggies.
So when you harvest that first planting of tender green beans, don’t put those extra seeds away yet. Sow another batch and reap a second harvest … and maybe a third.