I dont think of myself as especially methodical, but when it comes to gardening I take scrupulous notes throughout the year. These include remarks on the successes as well as failures that I frequently refer to as I consider plant selection and placement. In spring I begin recording the dates I plant each crop on diagrams of my raised beds. Eventually I note the first day of harvest as well and find this to be extremely helpful in synchronizing subsequent plantings in my garden. I plant intensively, often growing in succession several crops in the same spot over a single growing season. As one crop is harvested, space is made available for the next. Thus the diagrams help me keep track of these multiple plantings and enable me to avoid raising the same vegetable in the same location for three consecutive years. This method of crop rotation is particularly important in organic gardening as a means to stave off soil borne diseases, pests and soil depletion.
To extend the harvest, I sow in succession small quantities of quick to mature crops. Staggering sequential plantings ensures a constant supply without an inundation of a single crop. Often, novice gardeners mistakenly plant too much of one type of vegetable and are overwhelmed as these mature all at once. I laugh at my own past follies, remembering with amusement that I planted 18 zucchini plants in my first garden.
To maximize yield in a limited space, I interplant early maturing crops around plants that are slow to develop, making sure that there is ample space for root growth and air circulation. As I harvest the first crop of spring greens – including spinach, cress, mache, mustards, mesclun, arugula, Asian greens and lettuces – I tuck into the newly vacated spots slow to mature seedlings such as kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, heading cabbages, and globe artichokes. As the soil warms and night temperatures moderate, I transplant basil, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes and eggplants into the beds as well. When transplanting, it is important to amend the soil by placing a spade full of well-rotted compost in the bottom of the hole. Recent years have taught me to expect hot days in late May and early June that cause cool crops to deteriorate rapidly. With this in mind, I plant a second batch of salad greens along the northern border of a bed in which I had earlier planted peas. The pea vines have by now begun their ascent up the trellis and provide ample shade to the crops below. I also transplant a second crop of Asian greens, broccoli rapa, chicory, dandelion and escarole beneath trellises for melons and squash vines, anticipating the shade that these vertical crops cast as the summer progresses. Tall, bamboo teepees supporting pole beans also serve as verdant canopies of shade.
Selecting varieties that mature at different rates also aids in extending the harvest throughout the growing season. Certain lettuces such as Romaine, Cos, and Crispheads, for instance, tolerate heat better than tender, loose-leaf varieties that become bitter during the warm days of June. Spinach readily bolts as the temperature rises, so I substitute it with Basella Malabar, an Asian vine that thrives in heat (available through Seed Savers Exchange). Its succulent leaves are nutritious and tasty stir-fried with garlic. Slow to mature, Basella Malabar must be germinated indoors before being transplanted out when all fear of cold has passed. Likewise, there are many varieties of early, middle and late season corn, so that one could extend the duration of corn harvest throughout the summer well into fall. To avoid cross-pollination, however, plant different varieties of corn far apart.