One of the challenges in the home vegetable garden is the cycle most gardeners experience of feast or famine…Either nothing’s ready to harvest or you have so much of a single crop all at one time, that lots of good foods end up going to waste. Succession planting is the common way to manage the garden, staggering plantings over several weeks instead of just one big planting that first nice warm day. An even easier way to stagger your harvests instead of going out every weekend to plant again is to plant different varieties of the vegetable…each of which has a different time to harvest. On the back of every seed packet, there’s a little bit of vital information “days to maturity.”
Surprisingly, not every variety of a vegetable takes the same period of time to be ready to eat. Taking my spring favorite, the green pea, the labels reveal that Alaska Pea is an early pea and is ready to eat in only 55 days. At the other end of the spectrum, Green Arrow is a late-season pea…It takes 68 days to ripen. Dwarf Gray, the pretty pink-flowered oriental pea, is ready right in the middle at 59 days.
If you plant all three varieties on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th and allowing some time for germination, by the last week in May, the Alaska will be ready for eating. In early June, you’ll still be getting some Alaska but the Dwarf Grays will be ripening. Another week or so and the Green Arrows finally start. You can keep the harvest going even longer by making sure to keep the peas picked…so they keep making new peas. After a good five weeks of peas, you’ll be ready for something new.
You can apply this technique to any vegetable…If you plant several varieties of lettuces on the same day, the loose varieties will be ready first. Then the slower heading varieties will begin plumping out and finally, a sturdy late-season lettuce like Black-Seeded Simpson that can handle a little heat will round out the season. An even easier way to plant lettuce is to plant a mix like the Heirloom Blend which includes several different kinds of lettuces with different maturities all in the same packet. You can extend lettuce even longer by harvesting with a cut and come again method…Bring your scissors and cut off what you need for your salad. The plant will regrow for next week’s salad.
So just a little, advanced planning with the backs of your seed packets will keep a nice steady supply of perfect fresh “local” vegetables on your table. Fresh lettuce right from the garden is something beautiful to dream about during these cold winter days.