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Continuous Harvest Gardening

Article by Ann Dennis

Continuous harvest does not mean year-round harvest. It means harvesting, repeatedly, from plants that traditionally, we grow, harvest, and then wait a whole year to get another harvest.

Continuous Harvest is a reasonably safe activity for beginners as well as a challenge for veteran gardeners. I have been gardening for more than 20 years. This year, I decided to give it a serious try. I'd been reasonably successful in past years getting two harvests from my broccoli and lettuce but my husband kept saying, in a goading manner, that I could do more if I tried. Well I hate it when he's right, but he was, again.

Many vegetables can be continuously harvested. It does take some thought and planning though. Here's a list of plants that can be continuously harvested:
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Green Beans
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Beets
  • Tomatoes
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage

Broccoli plants are a two choices kind of deal. You can start seeds at different times and set them out at different times and then harvest at their appropriate times. Or you can put out two or three settings two weeks apart and take harvests that produce more on each plant later in the season. How? By ruthless cutting.

Broccoli - Here's the game plan for broccoli. Start your first setting twelve weeks before the last frost [May 5-20 in northern Illinois] and a new set of seeds ten weeks before the last frost. At four to six weeks before the last frost set out your first set of transplants and two weeks later set out your second set. Keep them mulched to keep the ground cool When the first set of transplants has headed up nicely, take a big, and mean BIG, sharp knife out and hack the stem off at a slant. You want to leave four leaves on at the bottom so the plant will continue to grow. This will also make sure that you get nice size heads on the next go-round. Two weeks later you should be able to do the same procedure with your second set of broccoli plants. This year I still got reasonable size heads even after the fifth harvest. No they weren't as big as that first head but I didn't feel I was wasting my time cutting them. The last heads were only 3 inches across but my daughter didn't mind eating them and we got enough for a meal for the three of us.

Beets - Beets can only be continuously harvested if you set aside enough space at the beginning of the garden season. If you want to make one big harvest for food storage you need to plant one big plot. But if you just want a few for buttered beets on the table, in the fall, plant small plots two to three weeks apart. Begin harvesting the first plot when the roots are 1 1/2 to 2 inches in size. Of course we grow them a little larger and cut them up for pickled beets.

Lettuce - Lettuce can give you two choices as well. You can seed a small amount every two weeks, or buy a "cut and come again" variety. Black Seeded Simpson is supposed to one that you can cut but I haven't figured it out yet. I just pick the loose leaf lettuce I like based on what we will eat and the unusual leaf and coloring. We've grown red and green leafed lettuce that looks like an oak leaf. And some that is green with a red blush. The leaf shapes are many and interesting. Some of the varieties we plant are; Red Salad Bowl, Butter Crunch, Black Seeded Simpson, and a mix called Mesclum.

Tomatoes - Tomatoes are relatively easy to plan. But you must choose an indeterminate variety. Or plant different varieties: Early, Main crop, and late fruiting varieties.

Ann Dennis is a former Master Gardener for cooperative Extension. She has a two year degree in Greenhouse Management and a life-time of experience in the garden and with her children. She also assists her husband in growing and selling water lillies. Together they have raised some things that the "experts said could not be grown in this area" by creating micro-environments for some borderline plants.