Everything is up and thriving in the garden and the humid heat and scattered thunderstorms of early July have shifted plant growth into overdrive. The mulched beds look tidy, peas climb their supports and garlic scapes are spiraling up and out. It seems like the time for a break fromall things gardening but, instead, we’re still planting. I headed to the garden center for a packet of lettuce seeds and a new length of hose, only to find that all six-packs of flowers, herbs and vegetables are on sale—buy one, get one free. My hand, of its own volition, snakes out: we certainly could use more parsley, and you never can have too much basil. The herbs are soon joined by marigolds, zinnias, salvia and portulaca. I have to turn away from the winter squash and cucumbers that call out to me, the opal basil and French tarragon that beg to be taken home and flee with amere 36 plants that need to be planted and watered in—anice afternoon’s worth ofwork.Half the lettuce seeds, an heirloombutterhead with red-tinged leaves and a lime-green heart,will go in a new bed I’ve yet to shape in the garden, in a corner that is shaded fromthe later afternoon sun.The rest of the seedswill be planted in about two weeks for a hoped-for early September harvest, and I really should put some radishes in at the same time. Yesterdaywe planted a newbed of bolt-resistant spinach, and a week ago an additional one of green beans for the freezer.These bean seeds came up in days,way faster than the spring-planted ones and less prone to insect predation now that the days are hotter and drier. In fact, outwitting insects like flea beetles and slugs is a major benefit of later planting.

Some might call this extended planting indentured servitude; the correct name for it is succession planting. We indulge in this activity in a limited way, mainly to insure that we’ll have salad greens to pair up with the first ripe tomatoes in August, but the more ambitious can put in beets, carrots, the aforementioned bush beans and Asian greens. Some of these second plantings can go into beds where the spring crop has petered out. If you’ve pulled all your arugula or mesclun mix, for example, work some compost into the vacated space and plant a second crop of bush beans.

Selecting early-maturing varieties is key to succession planting from seed. Some carrot varieties can mature in 50 days, while others take 70, so it’s important to check your seed packet information. You can also use a combination of transplants and direct seeding to effectively succession plant. If I hadn’t turned my back on the sale going on at the garden center, I could have brought home transplants of crops normally direct-seeded, including cilantro, lettuces, the aforementioned cucumbers and squash, and even sunflowers, as well as fall crops like broccoli, cabbages, beets and kale. In the future, this might be an option, but space wasn’t available in the garden this year to take advantage of some nice, healthy transplants at a bargain price. The first beds we’d have available for transplants for fall crops would be where we’ve pulled the peas and harvested the garlic, and by the time they became available these transplants would be toast—root-bound and leggy. The obvious way to best replant these beds would be to start our own fall transplants and pop them in the vacant spaces, but by the time we’d be harvesting these plants, certain members of the garden staff will be clamoring to pack it all in and head out for some fall bird hunting.And that’s okay.

When is it time to direct-seed for succession planting? Any time before mid-July in this area, I’d say. Despite the fact that they’re fast to germinate, summer-planted crops require longer to mature than spring-planted crops because the days are shorter and cooler air temperatures slow plant growth. Use the days to-maturity information on your seed packet, and then add an extra 14 days as a lower-light factor. This will give you your summer planting date. Do the math: a 55-day crop becomes a 70-day crop, which means that anything planted on July 15 will mature in early September. If cold weather arrives sooner than you expected, protect plants from frost and cold by covering them with garden fabric, with or without hoops or a cold frame. And don’t forget that byOctober you’ll already be planting for the next season: garlic and spring bulbs directly in the ground and spring greens in an unheated cold frame should you have one.

One last note: I don’t know why, but I have never seen anyone have a successful second planting of peas in Maine. I suspect it’s because the soil has warmed too much for good germination, but, for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened for me.