Many people have questioned how and why the potager is so productive. There are several reasons. For example, good drainage from raised beds, deep soil, and continual weed removal are assets to productivity. Good drainage means an earlier planting start for many cool weather crops in spring, and that helps productivity in several ways, especially here in Indiana where spring tends to jump quickly into summer. I don’t have to wait to till, so I don’t have to wait to plant. That means “early in, early out!” And “early out” means there is ample time to plant another crop to mature in that space again. Obviously, planting successive crops in the same space is called “succession planting.” We are lucky here in Zone 5, that the season is long enough for 2, 3, and sometimes even 4 crops to be successively planted. Here’s an example: This is bed 1-d, photo taken 3-31-17. Already a band of “Little Marvel” peas is emerging on the left and right edges, with two rows of carrots and radishes (mixed) in the center. Only the radishes are emerging at this point. They are a “nurse” crop, helping keep the soil loose for the slower-germinating carrots, and also aiding as a spacing device because as the radishes are harvested, more space is available for the carrots, which won’t need to be thinned. Here’s the same bed on June 16th The peas (picked 6/7, 6/10, 6/13 and finally 6/16) are already harvested, shelled, and eaten or frozen, and their space is ready for another crop. The radishes have also been harvested, and you can also see the miserable germination rate on the carrots. That’s one of those “penny-wise, pound foolish” cases. I used some old, old carrot seed rather than waste it. I’d have been wiser to invest in some new seed rather than waste my space. But, all is not lost because between the carrots that did come up, I was able to place some paprika pepper plants. Here’s the bed as it looks today: There is a double row of paprika peppers on the right side, carrots and paprika peppers in the center, and a double row of “Strike” beans (planted 6/16) on the left side. Note that the peas came out 6/16 and the beans were seeded the same day. The peppers will stay until frost, but the beans will be harvested and out in time to plant a fall crop of greens. The carrots will come out soon, giving more space for the peppers. Here’s another bed that transitioned further today. This is 2-d. If you go back and look at the second photo, you can see a corner of it as it looked on June 16th. It began in spring divided into thirds. The top third was spinach, the middle third was fall-planted shallots, the bottom third is Black Seeded Simpson lettuce. You can’t see it in the earlier photo, but as soon as the danger of frost was past, a top bit of spinach was harvested to make room for a “Mini Love” watermelon plant. When the melon grew enough, a trellis was added and gradually all the spinach was harvested. There is already a tennis ball sized melon formed. Recently, the shallots were harvested making room for a “Honey Bear” winter squash. You can barely see its darker green leaves peeking above the lettuce. Since I wanted another squash plant in that bed, today I harvested enough lettuce to make room for it. I’d been harvesting only the lower leaves, but it’s getting tall, so we’ll eat it all soon as wilted lettuce salad. As soon as the melon is finished, cipollini plants will be set in and the trellis will fill with a crop of snow peas. The two squash will fill the remainder of the bed until frost. Here’s 3-d as it looks today:
It’s a 6′ x 6′ bed and this photo was taken from the north, so the center path flowers are on the top rather than the bottom. You were confused until I clarified that, weren’t you? The center was 3 rows of “Deerfield Purple Garlic” which I started digging today. The right third, which you can’t see is “Gonzales” miniature cabbages. The left third was two rows of cauliflower (and obviously 1 mislabelled broccoli!!! I hate it when that happens!) and a row of spinach on the far left. When the spinach came out, curly parsley plants went in. The cauliflower is gradually coming out, making space for “Delicata” winter squash, whose vines will also fill the former garlic space. (Notice my brand new rain gauge, temporarily residing there. I would still be out digging garlic, but the rain gauge is currently filling at a rapid rate! Consequently, I’m in the shed writing this post.)
Throughout the potager as the garlic is being dug, mini-pumpkins or winter squashes are being planted. Where the shallots came out, okra plants and more melon plants went in. The first crop of Royal Burgundy beans has been picked 4 times, and although it is still blooming and forming baby beans, it will probably come out later this month so more beets can go in. The second crop of Royal Burgundy (where early lettuces were) and the third bean crop (“Tendergreen”) where early peas were will also be coming out to make room for more kale, kohlrabi, carrots, spinach, etc. No space is left empty. As soon as a crop comes out, compost is added and seeds or started plants go in.
Of the 40 beds, only the 4 planted in strawberries (2 June-bearing, 2 everbearing) do not have successive crops. The edges along the center paths are the other exception, because they always remain in flowers, although technically they also have successive crops because they begin with species tulips, then violas are added, and then marigolds go in when the tulip foliage dies back.
I hope you practice succession planting, and if not that you will consider it. The result is high productivity in a relatively small space. Compared to the old-fashioned, traditional method of planting the entire garden at once in long rows, with a tiller space between each row this is easy-peasy, and believe me, I know because I’ve done years with both methods. There is no way that I could handle all the weeding of the traditional method at my old age. Now I grow twice or three times the crops in about a third of the space and weeding is quick, maybe an hour a week. Deadheading takes longer…..but that’s another post.