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Cut and Come Again Crops

Friday, 25 July 2014 01:00 Written by  R.S.N.

A multi-purpose item is regularly a money saver, and that extends to growing. When one seed can lead to weeks and months of harvest, there’s better return on the investment in money, care and growing space than a one seed-one fruit harvest. Crop types where they are cut for harvest and returned to at a later date can make a big difference for small spaces, especially, such as overwintering green houses and raised beds or container gardens. So, let’s look at a few plants that are perfect for the fall growing season. 

Salad greens

Loose leaf or cutting lettuce might very well be the king of cut and come again. Mesclun mixes abound and are some of the most recognized multi-growth crops. For those who find the summer mesclun mixes too strong, individual varieties of leaf or cutting lettuce can be found, allowing gardeners to pick and choose what they want.

The individual blends can also be useful in an HOA environment or when plotting gardens for both edible and ornamental value, because colors and sizes can be arranged in rings, diagonals, lines, and as borders. 

Head lettuce is also a cut-and-come-again option. Some store-bought head lettuce retains enough roots to regrow a second crop, although some may have formed too thick a callous to regrow. This can be useful for varieties with narrow germination temperature bands, such as iceberg. If the seed wouldn’t germinate in late summer and early autumn temperatures that are still hitting 85 degrees, the re-rooted base stub will be fine if it’s kept shaded and watered.

It can also be used to hasten crop development. Instead of waiting for a seed to first germinate and then produce enough roots to support more than cotyledon leaves, then leaves to start developing, half the battle has already been fought. This is what allows a second harvest 10-21 days after a leaf lettuce was first cut. The same methodology applies to re-growing lettuce from the basal bundle, especially when starting with a previous head from a cold frame or overwintered head. The time to harvest will be greatly reduced, which can allow for an extra salad bowl or two before summer’s heat or hard winter freezes take out exposed specimens. 

When taken from a garden or pot, the basal stub left after a head has been harvested can be divided into two pieces, sometimes three or four, and those each individually re-rooted. That means the three seeds that went into the ground in February can turn around and produce a second or a whole handful of heads instead of just one. 

Some lettuces won’t regrow a true head after cutting, even if left undisturbed. Instead, some of them produce a looser rose or even just pairs or trios. Those will still have the original flavor of the original and can be harvested by the leaf. 

In addition to lettuces, beet and turnip tops, spinach, mustards, kale, and chard can be used as cut and come again leafy greens for salad when tiny. They can also be cut when more mature for cooking greens. Climbing pea shoots can be pinched off either very early and at the top or when thinning for salads or cooked greens, and the leaves and growing tips can also be snipped for salads without damaging the plants. 

Mache/corn salad, water or woodland cress, endive/chicory of all types, arugula, tatsoi, microgreens, and many wild- or weed-type herbs and greens can also be treated as cutting greens instead of being uprooted for harvest.

Cabbage

Cabbage functions exactly like lettuces, whether grown in tight, upright “football” shapes, round balls, or as looser, leafier configurations. All can be regrown from a store variety if enough of the base was retained and replanted early enough. 

When dividing a root, the best results are found when cutting into segments that will leave at least an inch of base (lay out a quarter or three on a severed stem, a little overlap is okay). Slender sections will regularly regrow, but they take more time and are more susceptible to disease and illness than a section that was only halved or quartered. 

Stubs can be provided a damp cloth or paper towel to rest on and be given a day or two to develop a callus on the cut sides of the root bundles. This will help prevent diseases from entering through the “wound.” 

Planted sections can also be painted with some honey as an antibacterial, or watered or doused using a willow-stem slurry or “tea” made by soaking willows in water. Willow works as both a disease preventative and also contains rooting hormones that can encourage faster growth. A willow slurry can be beneficial for any hardwood stem cutting, layering technique, or leaf cutting, as well. Modern aspirin may not still contain the useful rooting hormones, and so does not always offer an equal benefit. 

Carrots

Stop there. I know for a fact you cannot regrow carrots from the tops.

You’re not going to get a second tuber by re-growing carrots, let me state that upfront. That means it might not actually belong in a “cut and come again” article. However, there’s no need to leave behind tasty carrots in the ground to produce seeds once you find a soil combination and variety you really like. The top inch on a few can be left, rooted in a pie pan with pebbles and water, and then replanted. They won’t be as sensitive to crowding since there’s no tuber to develop. 

Those tops will then provide the seed stock for a second crop. The seed crop can be grown in narrow, shallow containers that would never support a full carrot, like a soup can or soda bottle, allowing for succession planting in the original space. If you follow a 10-25% crop-to-seed scheme, it can make a big difference to the amount harvested, as well. 

Although not as fast to respond as carrots, many root and tuber crops can be treated the same way, growing some in a condensed space after the harvest to provide seeds. The scheme can also be used to rescue some plants in order to maintain a seed stock in the face of late spring mud, drought, and late or early frosts. 

Regrow from kitchen cuttings

There are large lists of plants that will regrow from the tops or the rooted ends once the stalks or bottoms have been sliced off for eating. 

Sprouting leeks, onion tops, spring onions and celery are some of the other commonly seen plants that are grown from scraps. Spring onions absolutely count as a cut and come again crop. Select stalks can be harvested for kitchen use, with smaller stalks and the bulb left behind, or the stalks can be harvested an inch above the bulb. Leaving stalks to photosynthesize results in faster turnaround, although not quite as fast as chives. Some can be left to overwinter in many USDA growing zones, producing seeds to stock away or plant in the fall. 

Horseradish and ginger are other popular examples of taking part of a plant purchased at a grocer or farmer’s market, using a portion, and re-growing your own – although both should be planted in a large container until you’re 100% absolutely positively certain they’re where you want them. 

Benefits of Re-growing from scraps

There are a lot of reasons to reconsider the odds and ends from plants that end up in the trash or compost. Re-growing from scraps can maintain a constant supply of fresh seeds, lower grocery bills, lower nursery and home improvement store bills, and in the cases of herbs, might just improve health while also lowering topical ointment or herbal tea costs. 

Taking cuttings from even perennial herbs and veggies or fruits if there’s space can be useful for more than increasing production and lowering costs. Many trees, shrubs and perennial herbs were lost in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Midwest this winter due to heavy snow and ice or colder than usual temperatures. Instead of expanding, some growers are replacing those plants. A small cutting in a tin can left in a windowsill can be a hedge against that kind of loss – or displaced deer, escaped goats or chickens, a truck that doesn’t realize it’s left the driveway, or a digging dog. 

Growing from scraps is faster than growing from seed, creating less gap between harvests if something unfortunate should happen. 

Spreading the surplus

If too many cuttings are started for the space and ability, or no damage from winter or summer storms, it might be time to organize a seed and seedling swap at the local gun club, flea market, farmer’s market, church, boating club, sewing circle, craft shop, or even just among the neighborhood. Scouting groups, churches, and abuse shelters might also be interested in cuttings that allow members to tend to something and accomplish something positive, gain a sense of pride in growing their own produce. Some coffee shops might also be willing to host seed and seedling exchanges, allow advertising to a relatively broad spectrum in the community. 

Whether rooted cuttings or divided plants grown from scraps are donated or part of an exchange, they can positively impact the community by increasing awareness of the number of plants that can be treated as cut-and-come-again produce, or reproduced from waste products instead of spending extra money. 

Every person who grows even part of their own groceries is a step in the right direction, regardless of how far into the preparedness mindset they might be. Utilizing and spreading the word about true cut-and-come-again crops and the ability to regrow from grocery store scraps can help lower labor, improve harvest yields, and lower grocery store costs. Faster returns on plants makes each cultivated foot of land more productive and helps make even small space gardening worth the effort for new growers.

Last modified on Thursday, 24 July 2014 14:05
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