In the south, we are lucky to be able to garden year-round. However, there is a misconception among new gardeners that is of treating crops as perennials. Most vegetables are annual plants. They grow for one season then die. A few survive the whole season others grow fast and produce in only a couple of months. This might disappoint some newbies who expect to plant once and harvest continuously. The truth is the heat of the summer in the south is brutal on many plants. For the sake of survival, plants go to seed to produce a new life. Experienced gardeners used this cycle to their advantage and implemented it to extend the harvest. Let’s see together how to make nature be on our side, instead of trying to fight it.
# 1 Extend in the edges of the season
Every season has a starting and an ending point. Speaking of the warm season in the south, it usually begins in late March and ends in late September. After calculating the amount of crop you need to plant, try to avoid planting it all at the beginning of the season. Instead, plant the first batch early in the season, then follow it with the second mid-way through. This way, you will have a continuous harvest throughout.
#2 Take advantage of maturity time
This point ties in with the previous one. When you are shopping for seeds or transplants, pay attention to maturity time. The latter is the time it takes from transplant to production ( excluding germination time if you start from seed). To use this to your advantage, plant varieties with longer maturity time early in the season, then succession plant with short-maturing crops. By doing so, you lower your risk of early frost damage.
#3 Understand your growing seasons
In the south, the growing seasons come as cool, warm, hot, then warm again. We do not have a cold season like the northerners since our winters are mild. However, we do have a hot season, where we work hard to keep our gardens alive. Taking this into consideration, choose crops that do well in warm or hot conditions. Otherwise, plan to put your garden to rest for the hot months, then resume gardening in the fall.
#4 Choose the right crops
After knowing your seasons, you can make the right crop selection for your garden. Flipping through seed catalogs is very tempting, but for a successful garden, making wise decisions is key. For the southern regions, focus on varieties that are slow-bolting, heat-tolerant, disease-resistant, and pest-resistant. This will save you a lot of effort trying to maintain the garden.
#5 Apply high density planting
High-density planting is a method of maximizing the space by planting much closer than regular farmers. This method is widely used by urban gardeners. Inspired by the Square Foot Gardening method developed by Mel Bartholomew, it promotes smarter use of growing spaces. By using this method, you get a higher yield per square foot than the traditional spacing method.
#6 Start seeds
Everyone knows that starting seeds indoors give us a head start on the season. How about starting seeds to extend the season and the harvest. This applies mainly to cucumbers, tomatoes, and squashes. Once the temperatures hit the hundreds, spring-planted plants start slowing production. Before they stop completely, I start new plants indoors or in a shaded area. By the time the old plants give up, the new ones are already flowering are close to producing.
#7 Succession plant
All of the previous points are interrelated, and succession planting is no different. You might have gotten a glimpse of it when we talked about extending in the edges of the season and considering maturity time. What I mean by succession planting is to plant in increments of time. Let’s take the example of green beans. Instead of planting a 4 by 8 bed at once, split the task into two weeks intervals to avoid getting all your harvest in one shot. This will also allow you to eat fresh longer.
This may seem redundant, but it is all about gardening smart not hard. While all the points raised previously may seem to hover around the same idea, the truth is they apply differently to each crop. For example, you do not need to succession plant eggplants and peppers. Since they are crops that grow and produce all-season long, just choose the right variety for your area.
I hope you got a good idea of how to extend your harvest. The goal is to eat fresh the longest possible and delay preservation until the end of the season.