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Having a good understanding of succession planting is crucial if you have a small garden and want to maximize your yields. During my first growing season, I had many raised beds sitting empty because I didn’t have a crop ready to go in after I harvested the first one. But research and planning go a long way. I’ve had a particularly bountiful harvest of potatoes and then leeks from the same bed, and I can show you how to do the same.
To grow potatoes as part of succession planting, pick an early variety. After harvest, follow your potatoes with leeks, cabbage, kale, lettuce, or Asian greens. Have the seedlings ready beforehand, and make sure your chosen varieties have enough time to mature before the first frost.
Succession planting is not the same as crop rotation. I find crop rotation to be pointless in a small garden as long as you keep the soil healthy. Succession planting follows a summer harvest with a second sowing or planting that will grow and mature in a few months and be ready for harvest the same year.
But before planning all this, you should have some basic knowledge on when to sow potatoes, how long it takes them to mature, and when to start your succession crop seedlings.
Grow early and second early potatoes.
Ideally, you’ll want to harvest your potatoes from June to late July if you’re going to get a second crop in the ground. You can achieve this by choosing “first early” and “second early” varieties.
When planning your potato harvest, keep the last frost date in mind, and sow your potatoes no earlier than 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. It’s usually mid to late March for first earlies, while for second earlies and maincrop potatoes, it’s mid-April.
Most early potato varieties will be ready in about four months. Chit potatoes to give them a head start and help them sprout and mature faster. In early to late spring, protect the young plants from unexpected frosts by covering them with horticultural fleece.
You’ll know your potatoes are ready when their foliage turns brown, although you’ll likely dig up some new spuds much earlier than that. Check this article on more tips on when potatoes are ready for harvest.
When harvesting your entire crop of potatoes, re-amend the soil with a compost layer to replenish nutrients and keep the soil life balance. This will help with water retention, pest control, and ensuring a great head start to the plants that follow.
Amending the soil with compost in between crops, especially if your soil is lacking in structure and nutrients, is a crucial step for succession planting. When harvesting potatoes, you’ll most likely dig them out and disturb the soil structure, so adding compost will help undo the damage of digging to some degree.
Have your seedlings ready beforehand – most should be 3 to 4 weeks old, although some plants will be older, and others can be sown directly in the ground in summertime.
Here are some tried and tested examples of what you can grow after potatoes:
Follow potatoes with leeks.
Follow your early potatoes with another hardy vegetable: leeks. There are a couple of ways to do this. Sow your leeks inside modules or large trays inside a greenhouse or polytunnel.
You can start as early as March and pot them on as they grow bigger, but since they won’t be going in their final position until June or July, don’t rush them. It’s best to sow your leeks in April and choose a frost-resistant variety to last you through the winter.
When they reach a nice size, and you’ve harvested your potatoes, plant the leeks in fluffy, well-worked soil, and you can choose to protect them with a layer of mulch like straw or grass clippings to preserve moisture.
You can plant leeks as clumps from multi sown modules, which will develop a green stem above ground, or plant them traditionally in deep holes to develop that nice, blanched stem.
Leeks will be ready for harvest in late autumn, but you can overwinter them in the ground, as they withstand snow and frost.
Grow autumn cabbages.
You can follow your crop of potatoes with cabbages – most plants from the cabbage family will do very well as autumn crops since they love the chilly weather.
Potatoes can tolerate partial shade, and cabbages often thrive in shady, cool locations, so it’s an ideal option for succession planting.
Sow winter cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and even kohlrabi inside module trays in June, and transplant them in your cleared raised beds in July, when the seedlings are about a month old.
Cabbage is a heavy feeder, so make sure to replenish your soil after harvesting potatoes with plenty of organic matter and fertilizers of your liking – like this all-purpose fish fertilizer.
Follow potatoes with salad greens.
You can sow most lettuces all year long, and they’re very versatile for succession planting, but other greens that we enjoy in our salads grow best as fall crops.
Late July or early August is the perfect time to get started with endives, chicory, fennel, and rocket, to name a few.
Asian greens such as Chinese cabbage, mustards, mizuna, tatsoi, and Bak Choi all do better in autumn weather when it’s cool, and pests are no longer harming the tender seedlings.
You can sow all these greens directly in the ground after spreading a thin layer of compost, or start them in modules – whichever you prefer. Lettuce does well when sown in July, while Asian greens thrive when planted in August after most of the summer heat has passed.
A July sowing of lettuce can go a long way throughout the autumn season if you sow enough of them and only pick the lower leaves. But if you wish to push your growing season even further, plant lettuce again, along with spinach and other cold-hardy greens in early autumn, to enjoy them all throughout the winter. Protect these winter greens with cold frames or low polytunnels.
Follow potatoes with another root crop.
Although not advisable, because potatoes and root crops can share many of the same pests, you can definitely try growing another autumn root crop. Observe your potato harvest, and if they seem healthy, focus on restoring life to your soil.
Soil is all that matters for the health of your root crops. Sow winter carrots in June, or get beetroot or swede seedlings ready to go in the ground in July, and you’ll truly maximize the potential of your raised beds.
Carrots are more difficult to germinate in the heat of summer, but it’s not an impossible feat. All you need is good, fluffy compost – I love vermicompost for this purpose and something to protect your delicate seeds. Sow the carrots in shallow trenches, sprinkle soil on top, and cover everything with burlap, cardboard, or planks of wood, making sure to water regularly until the seeds germinate.
Planting root crops in fall will taste even better than summer harvests because the roots will swell and become sweeter as winter approaches.
Rules for autumn planting
- Choose a vegetable that thrives in cold weather;
- Choose a variety that matures in 60 to 90 days and withstands early frosts;
- Sow your succession plants four weeks before harvesting potatoes – sooner for leeks;
- Harvest potatoes and add a generous layer of compost and mulch to serve as nutrition for the next crop;
- Plant the seedlings you’ve prepared and keep them watered, as the summer weather will likely be too dry;
- Sow greens for harvesting during winter and plan to cover them with cold frames, low polytunnels, or cloches;
- Plants like leeks, Brussels sprouts, and kale can be left in the ground all winter long and harvested as needed.
I hope you’re inspired to plant something after your potato harvest – even if you’re only doing so in August – it’s better than leaving that precious space unused until the following season.
Succession planting is how skilled gardeners make the most out of the tiniest of gardens, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same. Just remember to know your variety well, so that your potatoes are ready by July and always have seedlings ready beforehand, so you can save some time and make the most of the remaining summer and autumn months.