As spring drifts into summer vegetables like spinach, broccoli rabe, radishes, and peas will finish up, which means now is the ideal time to plant new vegetables in their place. This planting strategy is called succession planting and the goal is to plant food all summer long so you have a continuous harvest. I've listed some of my favorite crop combos after the jump, but I am also curious what you are planting in your garden right now.
Out: Peas, including shelling peas, sugarsnap peas, and snowpeas
In: Plants that like rich soil, including cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, and cherry tomatoes
Peas fix nitrogen in the soil. Take advantage of this natural nutrient boost by planting crops that use a lot of nitrogen following peas. To save space, plant vegetables that will climb up the peas' trellis. Cucumbers are my favorite, especially 'Lemon' and 'Satsuki Midori', but the climbing summer squash 'Trombetta' is a good choice, too. You can also plant cherry tomatoes next to the trellis and tie them to it as they grow. To get the area ready to plant just cut the pea vines off at the soil line with scissors. Don't worry about leaving their roots in the ground, as they will quickly decompose. Before you toss the pea vines in the compost pile pinch off their tender tips and use them in salads, stir fry or pesto--they are so delicious.
Out: Broccoli Rabe or Mustard Greens
In: Bush Beans
As soon as hot weather hits, broccoli rabe and mustard greens form their delicious flower buds. For the best flavor, harvest the plants when the buds are still tightly closed. I also usually keep a few plants in the garden and allow them to flower, because the blossoms make a tasty, colorful garnish and they lure in a lot of pollinators. Pull up the spring greens, rake the soil smooth, and scratch in a bit of granulated organic fertilizer to get the soil ready for the beans. Bush beans stay short and produce most of their pods in one big flush, while pole beans grow into a 6 to 8 foot tall vine. I grow both types in my garden, but am fond of bush beans because they are a pretty quick crop. Direct sow the bush beans in rows, spacing the seeds about 2 inches apart and the rows about 12 inches apart. The beans grow fast--you'll need to thin out every other plant when they are a few inches tall--and produce pods in about 2 months. When the beans finish up in late summer, you can plant fall crops in their place.
In: Basil and Dill
Cilantro bolts (i.e. goes to seed) in hot weather. If you want to have a supply of cilantro all summer long, you'll need to sow a small amount every other week and plant it in a spot that gets some afternoon shade. When cilantro goes to seed, its leaves turn feathery and develop a super soapy, unappetizing taste. You can pull the plants out this point, but I usually wait because the plant will soon set seed, which is the spice, coriander. The coriander seeds are delicious. After you harvest the seed, pull out and compost the cilantro and plant quick growing basil or dill seedlings in its place.
In: Malabar or New Zealand Spinach, Orach
Spinach leaves transform from round to arrow shaped when the plant starts to bolt. They also develop a pretty unpleasant flavor. Pull up the plants when they hit this stage and plant a heat-tolerant green in their place. Orach is a bushy plant with succulent leaves and a mild flavor. The purple type is especially pretty in salads, though it comes in a nice deep green as well. Orach cooks down just like spinach. Malabar spinach is a vine. Try interplanting it with pole beans to add interest to a trellis. New Zealand spinach is bushy like orach, but with leaves that taste reminiscent of regular spinach. All three of these vegetables produce greens through hot weather, especially if you pinch them back regularly. Just be sure to pinch right above a set of leaves.
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Willi Galloway writes The Gardener column. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes about her kitchen garden on her blog DigginFood. Her first book Grow. Cook. Eat. A Food-Lovers Guide To Kitchen Gardening will be published in January 2012.
(Images: All images by Willi Galloway)