Harvesting veggies time and time again that are typically harvested only a single time
Story and Photography by Kristi Cook
One of the many joys of growing your own food is the nearly constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Freshly picked tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, and squash are some of the most delightful summer treasures. Yet many crops, such as lettuce, onions, and Swiss chard, tend to be thought of as single-harvest vegetables, making it necessary to provide enough space for large plantings as well as a keen attention to succession planting in order to receive several weeks worth of these single harvest crops. Many of these vegetables, however, are capable of producing multiple harvests if you provide just a little extra attention to the harvesting methods and give them a bit of time to recover from each picking.
Leafy vegetables are among the easiest to coax into producing more than one picking and take advantage of two different approaches to continuous harvests. For instance, if you enjoy salads loaded with tender baby leaves select a cut and come again lettuce mix. These mixes are often labeled as mild, spicy, or a blend of both to suit a variety of taste preferences. Simply prepare the seedbed and broadcast seeds across several feet rather than making neat and tidy rows. Spacing between seeds is not critical as these blends will be harvested while still in the smaller stages of growth. After seedlings sprout and leaves reach a few inches in height, you can start harvesting leaves as you need them.
Perhaps the easiest method for gathering these small leaves is to grab a handful of plants by the tops and snip about an inch or two above the crown. Cut as many handfuls from your growing patch as your family needs for a day or two and leave the rest for the next cutting. Depending on your climate and the varieties chosen, these freshly cut lettuces will produce new leaves from the crown and will be ready for cutting again within a couple of weeks.
Alternatively, if you prefer the larger, crunchier leaves of more mature lettuces, opt for the loose leaf varieties and larger leafed spinaches. Plant the seeds or transplants at the recommended distance and allow the outer leaves to mature to the stage that you prefer. Once the preferred size is reached, break or cut the outer two to three layers of leaves close to the bottom of the plant and leave the central portion intact. Over the next couple of weeks the central leaves will become the outer leaves and will continue to lengthen in size. Repeat this cutting and regrowing cycle until the plant’s regrowth slows. Once it has slowed significantly or shows signs of bolting (or going to seed), pull the entire plant and enjoy as a final meal.
Succession planting every one to two weeks for four to six weeks total works very well with these larger lettuces as well as the baby lettuces to allow for harvesting of some of the plants while the freshly cut ones rest and produce new leaves.
Cut ‘em Down
Other cut and come again choices include Swiss chard, green onions, chives, and garlic. These tasty treats add variety to salads and other meals and shouldn’t be overlooked. All of these vegetables continuously produce their growing leaves from a central point. Once the leaves of each of these plants reach a usable size, simply cut them above their growing point. Swiss chard and chives should be left with 2”-3” of growth across the entire plant while green onions and garlic should be cut just above the beginning of the white portion of the stalks to allow for regrowth. The one thing to remember with these cut and come again choices are that each cycle typically produces somewhat smaller new growth. I have found it best to limit the number of cuttings to no more than three times with two cuttings generally producing the best results.
One added advantage to the cut and come again talent of most lettuces, onions, scallions, and garlic is the ability to grow these vegetables in containers in late summer and early fall that can later be brought indoors to continue their regrowth cycle for a while longer. However, because these particular vegetables are dependent on the amount of daylight they receive to continue growing, you will need to provide supplemental lighting during the shorter days of winter to delay the drive to go dormant.
Cut and come again vegetables are an easy way to harvest extra tasty veggies time and time again from crops that are typically harvested only a single time. With just a little attention to growing habits and provided enough time to recover, a single planting can provide several weeks of fresh produce.