Succession Planting For A Longer Season

Posted on: August 30, 2016 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Ralph Dunking of Wheeling WV

Ralph Dunkin from Wheeling, W.Va., stands in his 20′ x 35′ fenced in garden. He’s been experimenting with succession planting and extending the season by planting cool weather crops early and late in the garden season.

In the past, Ralph Dunkin, 65, of Wheeling, W.Va., would have just let that ground go fallow after his peas stopped producing. He planted them on St. Patrick’s Day, which is a gardening tradition for many home growers. He has been picking since May. Peas love cool weather and usually give up in June. This month’s heat has taken its toll on the vines, which are just about ready to call it quits.

“As a kid, I had to weed the garden, I hated the garden,” he says.

It’s evident that’s not the case anymore for himself or his granddaughter as she searches for more treats in the 20-foot-by-35-foot, fenced-in, vegetable garden.

Another planting of basil plants will be put in place of the peas. Dunkin started experimenting with succession planting by growing three different lettuces from seed last October. ‘Vivian,’ a romaine type and ‘Bibb’ lasted until December, with mixed varieties actually surviving the winter and producing until this June.

“The only month that we did not pick mixed lettuce was February,” he says with pride.

His wife, Terry, bought him a coldframe. It’s basically a small unheated greenhouse that he uses to keep cool weather crops happy for the winter out in the garden. When the sun heats the inside of the coldframe, Dunkin, a retired Lutheran bishop, opens the transparent plastic lids to cool things down.

“We were having homegrown salads in March. That just doesn’t happen,” he says, smiling. “So it was just fun to extend the season.”

This spring, he started more lettuce early and the couple enjoyed the tender leaves in April.

“The salads we have today make our old salads look sick,” Dunkin says with a laugh.

He combines his fresh spring lettuce with the tops of onions and other greens.

This time of the year, he’s planting carrots from seed, basil plants and more onions, some close together to pick as green onions. Dunkin also started seeds indoors; he hopes to have the plants in the ground over the next several weeks. He’s planted mustard, three different lettuces, spinach and more arugula.

The trick, he says, is to look at the seed packets, figure out how long it will take to harvest, as long as there’s enough of the season left get them in the ground.

“It changed my thinking,” he says. “Instead of getting rid of seeds after a season or two, I hang on to them.”

Dunkin has two outdoor compost bins and a vermicomposter that uses worms year-round to make compost. That’s what gives him his green thumb, he says. “It’s just like planting in fertilizer.”

The vegetable garden also is filled with purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, clematis and other plants to encourage the bees.

“I want to make sure I have the pollinators to make things grow,” he says. “I think it’s important.”

Dunkin has come a long way from those days toiling in the garden as a child.

“I like to get in the dirt and play,” he says, smiling. “There’s just a joy of seeing something produced, I just love to do that. It’s a real passion for me now.”

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