Friday, August 30, 2013

A second crop

When I first started gardening, one practice I was keen to adopt was succession planting. The idea is simple enough: when one crop stops producing, you pull out the plants and put new ones in the same place. Logically, this seems like it would significantly increase the amount you can grow in a given space. My first few attempts at it, however, were singularly unimpressive. I tried to plant butternut squash and pumpkins in the space where my snow peas had been—but because the snow peas didn't start producing until June and kept producing until the beginning of August, the squash plants went in late and never actually produced anything. I tried planting cabbages and spinach in August, and they never came up. Eventually, I decided the whole idea was just more trouble than it was worth. I'd just set aside a given number of squares for each crop and plant it at the appropriate time, and if that meant that parts of the garden ended up sitting empty for a while, so be it.

This approach has certainly saved me a lot of trouble, and it's made it much easier to grow certain crops. This year, for instance, we got our butternut squash down nice and early in mid-May, and as a result, we were able to start harvesting them in August (with plenty more still on the vines to see us through the fall). However, when I read an article this week about "5 Things to Buy in September," and it mentioned spinach as a seasonal crop, I found myself developing a hankering for some fall greens. True, I'd had no luck growing spinach in the past, but maybe I'd just been planting it too early. I had all that space in the garden where our spring crop of lettuce used to be; what did I really have to lose by sprinkling some lettuce and spinach seeds in there and seeing if I could grow a second crop for fall?

The lettuce was easy; I still had plenty of seeds left over in the packet of Tom Thumb Baby Bibb lettuce I started this spring (I had some other varieties too, but none I liked nearly as well). However, since I hadn't actually planned on growing any spinach this year after my marked lack of success in the past, I hadn't bought any new spinach seeds. A quick rummage through the seed bin turned up a few unused or half-used packets, but they were all several years old. I had two opened packets of "Bloomsdale Long Standing" spinach, one from 2008 and one from 2009, neither of which had actually given us a crop; there was also one unopened packet of "Harmony" spinach that I didn't actually remember buying. (Most likely I acquired it on Freecycle and then forgot I had it.) "Bloomsdale Long Standing" had only mediocre ratings on the "Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners" site at Cornell, and I certainly hadn't had any luck with it in the past, so I decided to go with the Harmony.

Unfortunately, spinach seeds don't tend to last long in storage; the Extension Office at Oregon State University says you can't expect them to keep much beyond one season. So it was likely my four-year-old seeds would be kaput, or at least would have a significantly lower germination rate than new seeds. But still, since I wasn't going to use the seeds for anything else, and I wasn't going to use the space for anything else, what did I have to lose by trying? Rather than planting just nine individual seeds per square foot, I decided to scatter pretty much the whole packet over a three-square-foot area. That way, even if only one in ten of them actually sprouted, I'd have a reasonable chance of getting enough plants to fill the space.

So my new seeds have been planted, covered over with dirt, and watered. Now there's not much to do except wait (and pop back there every now and then to pull any weeds that try to pop in in that spot). We might not succeed in growing any fall greens, but at least it won't be for lack of trying.
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