When we're starting to transition from one season to the next, I often find myself doing a lot of something we call "gap planting." This happens when one row of vegetables in a plot is done, but the other rows are still growing and maturing. Not everything we plant in a plot matures at the same time, so open spaces are inevitable.
This happened recently in our fall/winter brassica plot where we had a row each of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Of these four Brussels sprouts take the longest to mature. Broccoli and cauliflower are usually the first to be harvested, and cabbage is somewhere in the middle.
We recently harvested all the main heads in our broccoli row, which left a "gap" for us to use. Below we'll discuss some considerations that we use to determine what to put in these gaps. We hope this information will be helpful and allow you to keep delicious food growing in your garden all the time.
Consideration 1: Crop Rotation
We're big believers in crop rotation. If we can help it, we try not to plant the same family of vegetables in the same spot in consecutive seasons. We'd like to not plant the same family in the same spot in consecutive years if we can help it, but sometimes we're limited on rotation locations.
We rotate mainly because of insect and disease pressure, but it also allows us to give some plots a break throughout the year. In our warm south GA climate, insect eggs and fungal spores overwinter in the soil throughout the winter. This means they can cause more problems for us if we put the same target plants in the same spot year after year.
In this particular plot where we removed the broccoli, we had only grown sweet corn the previous year. Then in the fall we planted half the plot in onions and the other half with the brassicas mentioned above. We weren't going to plant anymore onions and it's too early to plant corn, so we weren't very restricted on what we could plant rotation-wise. We just wouldn't want to put more brassicas there.
Consideration 2: Days to Maturity
This is probably our most important consideration for gap planting. Since this plot was half covered in onions, we knew the plot was going to be partially occupied until mid to late spring. We usually don't harvest our bulbing onions until late April or early May.
Once those onions are done, I'd like to cover crop that plot and give it a break from being farmed so hard over the last few seasons. As a result, I didn't want to plant anything there that would outlast those onions.
I've made this mistake in the past and it just creates this vicious cycle of continual gap planting. Ideally we'd like to give each of our plots a seasonal break each year, whether that be in the warm season or cool season. This seasonal break allows us to build organic matter with cover crops and add fertilizer with our chicken tractor.
Consideration 3: Timing
This one isn't a huge issue in the fall and winter, but it can be in the summer. We don't want to plant something that isn't going to be able to handle the upcoming change in weather. We wouldn't want to plant tomatoes in early to mid summer because we know they can't handle our summer heat with temperatures regular over 90 degrees.
We also wouldn't want to plant a cool season vegetable in early to mid spring because we know they won't handle the upcoming heat very well. We usually cease all cool season vegetable planting in February because spring comes early down here.
Use Gap Planting in Your Garden!
If you have an open row in your backyard garden plots, use it! Growing something in that spot will not only keep weeds from thriving, but you'll be able to grow more delicious groceries for your family to enjoy. Using these considerations, you'll be able to effectively use "gap planting" and keep the garden thriving. To see what we planted in the broccoli gap mentioned above, watch this video.