The Master Gardener’s Bookshelf
Plant Grow Harvest Repeat: Grow a Bounty of Vegetables, Fruits, & Flowers by Mastering the Art of Succession Planting
by Meg McAndrews Cowden
Review by Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener
Most vegetable gardeners want to get as much produce as possible from their gardens. Healthy soil and diverse plantings are key contributors. Equally important is how the garden is planted. Plant Grow Harvest Repeat: Grow a Bounty of Vegetables, Fruits & Flowers by Mastering the Art of Succession Planting by Meg McAndrews Cowden is a primer for using succession planting to get the most of a garden.
Succession planting is often defined as the process of continuously planting new crops, one after the other, throughout the growing season. For example, planting green beans after lettuce has finished producing or planting cucumbers once garlic plants have been pulled. Cowden says this strategy is the heart of succession planting. However, she says succession planting also includes other strategies to extend the harvest, such as planting several varieties of bush beans at the same time, each with a different harvest date, or planting a mix of vegetables with different maturity rates near one another.
Cowden’s approach to succession planting is informed by what occurs naturally in prairies, forests, oak savannas, and mixed-species forests where “different plant communities develop over time, with different groups of plants succeeding one another.” She begins by explaining what these natural areas can teach us about healthy plant ecosystems and then identifies strategies for applying these lessons in the home garden. Later chapters delve more deeply into succession planting, including succession planting in a summer garden, succession planting to extend the gardening season into the spring and fall, and succession gardening over time with perennial vegetables, berries, and trees.
Cowden admits that succession planting as she practices it requires extensive planning and can be time consuming—especially since she grows vegetable transplants throughout the gardening season to plant as space becomes available. The good news is that Plant Grow Harvest Repeat is full of tools and other resources to help. These include succession planting guides, and flower and vegetable spacing guidelines. She also shares her favorite flower and vegetable combinations, along with suggestions for obtaining a succession of flowers (native plants and annuals) to attract pollinators and beneficial insects throughout the growing season. Equally helpful are her descriptions of plantings that did not work in her garden such as the year her vining nasturtiums overgrew her tomatillos reducing the tomatillo harvest.
Cowden gardens in a Minnesota, United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone 4a, but her techniques apply to any zone, and her seeding starting and planting charts are designed to be adapted to other growing areas based on an area’s average first and last hard frost dates. Additionally, she has a large garden but makes clear that succession planting works well in small gardens too. Plant Grow Harvest Repeat has so much content that some readers may find it overwhelming. However, once the reader has completed the introductory chapters, it’s easy to skip around to the remainder depending on personal interest. As Cowden advises early on, decide what you want to grow, pick a strategy, and experiment to see what works in your own garden.
Plant Grow Harvest Repeat: Grow a Bounty of Vegetables, Fruits, & Flowers by Mastering the Art of Succession Planting (Timber Press Inc., 2022) is a valuable resource for anyone interested in trying new approaches for getting the most out of their vegetable garden. It is available at the Alexandria Public Library, the Arlington Public Library, and from national booksellers.