Planning Planting and Harvest Times

by: EJ on 02/28/2017

Cindy Connor's Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth is a comprehensive guide that will help you develop a customized garden plan to produce the maximum number of calories, dietary staples and key nutrients you can from any available garden space.  Today's excerpt explains the importance of planning planting dates related to harvest times.  

Length of Harvest

planning table

If you are new at growing, you probably have no idea how many weeks of harvest you will get from a crop. You might think that you plant everything at one time in your garden, and once things are producing you can pick it until frost. Well, it’s a lot more interesting than that. Some things; such as garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and grains; will be harvested all at one time. Then the bed is ready for the next crop. Peppers will produce until frost. Frost doesn’t bother the cabbage family — in fact those crops, as well as carrots and beets, taste better after they’ve been kissed by frost. To determine the number of weeks of harvest you will find hints in the seed catalogs, but ultimately you will learn from experience. Once you estimate how long the harvest will be, you can figure the end of harvest date. Learning about different varieties and how they behave in your garden makes you more connected with your land. Knowing the length of harvest ahead of time lets you know what to expect and allows you to see the whole picture for the year for your garden (and your diet). No matter what hints you’ve gotten from other sources, the learning is in the doing. Just get started and do it.

You’ll find that peas and beans are available as bush and pole varieties. The bush varieties will give you a more concentrated harvest in a shorter time. I usually plan on a two week harvest for each planting of bush beans or peas. There is a difference of about ten days to maturity between the bush and pole varieties of the sugar snap peas that I grow. I’ve sometimes put a trellis down the middle of the bed, sown the pole varieties along the trellis and, at the same time, sown the bush variety along the edge of the bed. The bush variety would be ready to harvest first and, as those sugarsnaps are waning, the pole variety would be coming on.


When I was selling vegetables and wanted a continuous supply of green beans throughout the summer, I would plant bush beans every two weeks somewhere in the garden. Planting like that is called succession planting. As soon as one planting finished producing, the next planting was coming on strong. The bed with the previous planting could be cleaned up and planted to the next crop, which wasn’t beans. One year, for our own use, I compared my regular bean variety, Provider, with one that had purple pods. The purple podded variety produced about as many beans as Provider; but it took three weeks, not two, for that production. It was clear that it wasn’t done at the end of two weeks. These are the things you will find out from experience, your best teacher.

One summer, a few weeks into beanpicking, I attended a farm field day and met two men who had left corporate jobs to become farmers. This was their first year. In our conversation I mentioned picking beans and the necessity to plant every two weeks, assuming they would be doing the same thing. Unfortunately, they hadn’t grown beans in the years before they decided to sell them, and thought they just had to plant once. They had been trying to figure out why their beans, which started out so strong, weren’t doing so well. They could plant again then, but by the time those new beans produced it would be the end of the summer.


Some crops are cut-and-come-again. Collards, kale, and Swiss chard are that way. They keep coming back after they’re cut. In our hot, humid climate, it is hard to keep collards and kale through the summer, but I’ve had Swiss chard in the ground from one spring to the next by providing summer shade and winter protection. I use spring and fall plantings for collards and kale, harvesting the later planting through the winter Once they’ve gone through a winter, collards, kale, and chard will bolt, which means they will send up a seed stalk, flower, and produce seeds.

Many people manage lettuce as cut-and-come-again. That has its limits and lettuce will begin to get bitter, particularly if you have planted it in the spring and the weather has turned hot. When I grew lettuce to sell, I grew it through the summer with shade and plenty of water, but I only cut it one time. The bed that was harvested would be amended with compost and any other organic amendments that were needed and replanted with lettuce transplants.

I might get three harvests from one bed throughout the season. Lettuce wouldn’t be in that bed for the next two years. In order to have transplants each week, I would start seeds every week in an area set aside for seedling production. After three weeks they would be ready to be transplanted. I’ve had customers at the farmers market and chefs tell me that my lettuce was the best they’d ever had. I’m sure it was because it was always the first cutting. I let the lettuce plants grow out to large plants before cutting, making the most of every seed I planted.



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