Stagger Sowing for a Longer Harvest

Winter is finally over, and spring has arrived. It’s time to plant seeds! Many gardeners make the mistake of thinking of seed planting as a one time, annual event, as though it was something to get over and done with to make the arrival of spring official. There are two very good reasons not to think this way. The first is that you don’t want the whole crop to be ready all at once. The second is that by staggering your sowing, you can reap your harvest over a longer period.

Staggered Sowing

One of the best pieces of advice for newbie gardeners is to not plant the whole seed packet at once. Seeds take a (more or less) even number of days to germinate, depending on the variety. The Brassicas are really fast to sprout, while seeds like parsnips may take weeks to germinate. Once they have sprouted, plants take (more or less) the same number of days to mature. So if you plant the whole seed packet in one go, the whole crop is going to be ready for eating all at the same time.

Lettuce is a good example to show that staggered sowing is more sensible. Lettuce seeds are very small, and most seed packets contain between 500 and 1,000 seeds. When lettuce is ready to pick, it has to be dealt with or it will bolt (go to seed), and become inedible. So rather than ending up with a whole bed full of lettuce that has to be picked, the home gardener should plant short rows several times in the spring. What are you going to do with 500 mature lettuces, anyway?

What are short rows? Ask yourself how much lettuce your household can consume in two weeks. Even if you have salad every night (plus some extra), that’s only 14 to 20 heads of lettuce. Use a calculation like this to determine the length of the row you need to plant. And then schedule your spring and summer seeding dates to meet this need.

Plant seeds at regular intervals spaced two to three weeks apart.

Treat annual flower seeds the same way. Whether it’s Cosmos, sunflowers, or Phacelia, the bloom period will be extended if you plant several times from spring to early summer.

Like everything in gardening, there are exceptions to the rules. Many crops (like peppers and tomatoes), require a single, early sowing. Some crops (like zucchinis and pumpkins, and some herbs), are so productive that you only need a couple of plants. Many flowers really need the cold of winter and early spring to break their dormancy before they germinate. But consider the list of seeds that are worthy of staggered sowing:

Arugula
Bush Beans
Beets
Broccoli
Cabbage
Carrots
Chicory
Cilantro
Corn Salad
Cress
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lettuce
Mesclun mixes
Mustard greens
Pac Choi
Peas
Radishes
Spinach
Swiss Chard
Turnips

Finally, there are some seeds that come in such a wide range of shapes, textures, colours, and sizes, that they warrant planting new varieties with each sowing interval. We love to plant a different lettuce variety every two weeks or so, to break up the routine a bit. It makes salads more interesting and summer harvests more compelling. Do this with peas and bush beans as well, for variety, and also to get to know specific types that appeal to your tastes and perform better in your garden.

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