Let’s imagine, for a moment, that spring of 2020 kept you far too busy or distracted to consider the garden... Suddenly, it’s June, and a patch of ground that once showed so much promise from March to May now languishes idly in the noonday sun. Looking out the window, you wonder: Is it even worth sowing seeds through summer?
Conversely, it's quite possible you found yourself with a little extra time to kill this past spring, so every square inch of the garden got packed with seeds and seedlings (who could blame you?). With everything in the ground already, you think, there can be no changing course; from here, it’s just a waiting game until autumn harvest. Not so!
To explain, let’s review a few interesting facts about seed germination.
Did you know that seeds produced by a single plant do not always have the same germination rate? This is not a mistake or failure on the part of the parent plant; rather, it is an excellent strategy to protect the survival of the species. Variability in germination rate helps plants to meet a range of environmental challenges like drought, flooding, and temperature fluctuations. Seed coats of differing thicknesses may, for example, allow some seeds to survive an unusual cold snap even as their thinner-skinned brethren perish from sprouting too soon. So, in Nature, if the first batch of seedlings die, the second or third batch have a better chance at surviving long enough to reach the reproductive phase of a plant’s life cycle.
Plants also continually produce seeds throughout the growing season to give their offspring a fighting chance. And because we humans are known to eat all parts of plants—crisp shoots, succulent stems, tender leaves, fleshy fruits, and crunchy seeds—we can adapt this natural process of staggered germination rates to our own advantage. We do this by following the lead of past generations who understood the need to increase crop yield through germ testing and succession sowing.
Put simply, succession sowing means introducing seeds in intervals as plants mature and naturally decline in productivity; this allows growers to strategically stagger harvests and increase yields.
Now you understand why it isn’t too late to sow your crops! A strategy devised in the workshop of Mother Nature is probably worth adopting. And this principle holds whether you are getting started later than usual or whether you just want to get more from an already teeming vegetable bed.
While seasoned (and possibly obsessive) gardeners will sometimes create complicated spreadsheets for timing their plantings to the best advantage, succession sowing is really as simple or as complicated as you make it—you’re the boss!
We’ll keep things easy for now and highlight a few forgiving crops to sow in early to midsummer. You can dig a little deeper by typing “succession sowing” (or any other search terms you're curious about) into the search bar of our HVSC blog page. We also invite you to peruse the handy “Growing Instructions” and “Quick Facts” provided below each of our seed listings, where we offer information on how long it takes to grow each variety—from germination to harvest.
But above all: experiment! And see what works best in your garden.
Seeds for Your Summer Garden
Here are some of our favorites for this time of year—whether you are just getting started (you're not late; you're just doing things your own way!) or you would like to practice succession sowing into an already established and thriving garden. All of the following crops mature quickly and/or handle the heat of summer:
Sow seeds for fresh greens every three weeks. Both Salad Savor and Ultimate Salad Bowl will reward you with a steady supply of tender, delicious greens all summer long and into fall. Just after lettuce? Try Metta Lettuce Mix.
Perfect for tucking into bare spots, these fast-growing herbs are essential flavors of the season: try Basil Bouquet, Cilantro, and Mammoth Dill. Sow your herbs in two-week intervals. Keep in mind that dill and cilantro bolt especially quickly when sown in early summer, so plan on tighter intervals during that time.
Both Brilliant Beet Blend and Danvers Carrot can be sown in early to midsummer for fall harvest. Beets mature in 55 days and seedlings can be thinned for their leaves while the roots develop. You can sow most carrots as late as mid-August and then dig them up a little over two months later.
Try Lemon Cucumber! It looks like a lemon but tastes mild and cool as cucumbers ought. Did you know that cucumbers get "tired out" after just a few weeks of producing delectable, crunchy treats? Cucumber enthusiasts will often stagger their plantings for this very reason. Cukes can be sown until midsummer for early autumn harvests.
Both Blue Jade Corn and Double Red Sweet Corn love rich, warm soil and will mature by harvest time, as long as the seeds are in the ground by early July (or twelve weeks before frost, whenever that comes in your location).
Add these beans to your repertoire: Dragon’s Tongue and Red Swan offer both visual interest as well as sustenance. Succession sow these beans every three weeks until about ten weeks before the first frost.
Calendula and Borage bring charm and usefulness to the table; both plants perform double duty in the herb garden, with edible and pretty blossoms traditionally used in herbal salves and teas. And calendula seeds look like little curled up dragon tails! Quick to both germinate and mature, you can reintroduce these beauties every three weeks through August.
For a certified organic cover crop that's also easy on the eyes, go for Buckwheat. Their delicate sprays of ivory flowers will attract pollinators to your yard and increase yields. Mow or cultivate a week or two into flowering to nourish your beds.
And for later...
Piracicaba Broccoli, Ragged Jack Kale, or Radiant Radish all taste best at the end of the growing season. You can reintroduce radishes in late summer, when the heatwaves have subsided; Piracicaba will need to be sown at least twelve weeks ahead of your first frost, but Ragged Jack needs a head start of only eight weeks (that's early August in the Hudson Valley).
Finally, succession sowing is one of the best ways to develop a relationship with your garden. As you kneel down to sprinkle in a new row of lettuce or sneak in some cucumber seeds along the fence, you might find someone has been nibbling your cabbages or perhaps the snap peas are perfect for plucking. You may notice a rogue-but-welcome sunflower has volunteered among your beans. What will you leave and what will you snip? What needs a little coddling or room to expand? How are all your early springtime plans panning out? Succession sowing gets you back into the garden, so that you never miss a beat.
All the processes of sowing, weeding, harvesting, and feeding are opportunities to observe and listen to your garden throughout the growing season. Spending this peaceful time observing and learning will make you a better, more intuitive gardener. Succession sowing is a perfect excuse to linger in the garden; it sounds so “productive,” yet it is ever so easy and relaxing. Maybe the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but the right time to sow a seed can still be now.
And who knows? Perhaps while out sprinkling some carrot seeds, you’ll catch your favorite rose blooming in the morning light, its sweet perfume unwinding into the air.