To Reap the Joys of Harvest Over a Longer Period, Timing Is Everything


Mother Nature’s growth-regulating system helps same-type vegetables ripen about the same time. So if you don’t want everything ready together, space out the planting times.

Precise dates for planting seeds or setting out transplants will vary by climate and by what you are growing, but the days from planting to harvest will be about the same everywhere for a particular variety.

Now is a good time to make the calculations in planning your next garden.

Beets take about 60 to 90 days from sowing to first picking. Thus, if you plant a third of the seed packet at the recommended time, another third 20 days later and the final portion after another 20 days, the harvest will be extended by that time frame.

Once some are ready, others will be coming every 20 days.

Successive planting is especially effective with crops such as beets, lettuce, green onions, carrots and radishes, but it’s worth the trouble with just about everything, even flowers.


Divide the seed packet by four or five, or even just in half.

Because taste is probably the best, if not the only, reason to grow vegetables at home, harvest over a long period is a big plus. It does require planning based on knowledge of how vegetables ripen, but understanding the process is not difficult.

Many vegetables have early, middle and late-season varieties. Tomatoes are notable examples, and most catalogs and nurseries list them for sale that way.

General guidelines will be in reference books. More precise information for a specific variety will be in the seed catalog or on the seed packet or transplant labels.

Look for things like “ready to harvest in about 50 days” or “ready to pick about 70 days after setting out transplants.”

Select varieties adapted and recommended for your region and keep within the recommended range for soil moisture and temperature.

One caution: Sellers routinely tend to be overly optimistic, so add about a week to the catalog, packet or label estimates. Then allow for some plants of the same variety to mature later or before others.

The nearest cooperative extension office or university agricultural department will have authoritative information.

In my garden, green onions (scallions) and green peppers or tomatoes provide an example of a simple crop rotation. In season, scallions develop from onion sets in a few weeks (seeds also work well).

I prepare a 4-foot-by-10-foot raised bed and divide it into three equal segments. Sets spaced an inch apart are planted in the first segment. Two weeks later a similar planting goes into the second segment. The third segment is planted two weeks later.

By the time the green onions from the first bed have been eaten and replacement sets planted, the second bed is being harvested. The third bed is harvested next. This sequence continues until higher temperatures rule out further onion planting.

How do you know it’s harvest time? Every experienced gardener has a list of things to look for, but frequent sampling is probably the easiest: Most vegetables taste best when fully developed but before they turn the corner to maturity.

Try containers where garden space is limited and sunlight or soil conditions make growing vegetables difficult.