Continuous-Harvest Veggies

Pole beans can get 8 feet tall or higher. Obscure fact: pole beans always grow around their supports in a counter-clockwise direction as you can see here

When planning my garden, I distinguish continuous-harvest from single-harvest type crops. Since I am a self-proclaimed lazy gardener, I go for continuous harvest whenever I have any choice.

For example, you probably know that green beans come in two basic types (bush and pole), but did you know that bush beans were developed so that they can be mechanically harvested, which means the plants are short enough to fit underneath a harvester and all the beans ripen at the same time? In contrast, pole beans produce steadily from the time they start bearing around July 1 until the fall temperatures get too cold for them to set pod. Bush beans have to be succession planted if you want a continuous supply, but are good if you like to can or freeze your produce. Pole beans bear continually, so you can plan your meals by merely strolling through your plot anytime after they start producing in late June and picking what you need for a meal or two. Pole beans produce a lot in a very small space, so be sure to donate the excess to City Harvest.

Bush beans come all at once, which is great for canning or freezing for next winter

Indeterminates (top) get huge & produce until frost, determinates (bottom) stay short, bear all at once then quit.

Same thing with tomatoes: the short ones are determinate because they can be harvested mechanically, and produce all at once then stop growing, while the long vine-like ones that want to crawl all over your garden and need to be staked or caged or otherwise supported or restrained are indeterminate because they just keep on growing until the November frosts kill them off. I am a great fan of indeterminate tomatoes: the fabulous SunGold orange cherry tomato doesn’t quit producing until the first killing frost, long after all of the determinates have become a faded memory. Many of the famous heirlooms & Jerseys are indeterminate, as is Burpee’s tasty Brandy Boy, while paste-type and grocery store varieties tend to be determinate. Your seed packet or plant tab will tell you which type yours is.

Other continuous-harvest plants I like are chard, kale, collards — sometimes called “cut and come again” — plants which you harvest leaf by leaf. The only thing to keep in mind is to always leave enough leaves so the plant can support itself, otherwise you will shock it and slow or halt production. An additional bonus is that these plants are usually biennials, meaning they don’t produce seed until their second year — which means they have to survive through the whole winter, supplying you with fresh veggies during the coldest months plus a bonus spring crop right before they go to seed and die (most of our “winter” vegetables are these winter-hardy biennials). With the exception of chard, which loves the summer heat and is relatively unaffected by bugs, most of these veggies prefer cooler temperatures, so you might think about planting them in the fall when there are fewer bugs and the weather gets more comfortable for both plant and human.

Root crops (like beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, rutabaga), although admittedly not “single harvest”, can be held in the garden over the winter under a blanket of salt hay mulch because they never “ripen” but only get bigger. That way you can gather only as much as your need for a meal or two and essentially treat them as continuous harvest until you run out. It’s not a bad idea to sow an extra crop of these in August for over-wintering.

Root crops like beets (left) can be left in the ground until ready to use. Chard (right), a biennial, can be harvested for almost a year before it goes to seed and dies.

– Barb Mc

BONUS LINKS: Pauline forwarded this article from Science Daily which will make you feel extra-good about growing your own tomatoes. Turns out organic tomatoes have more anti-oxidants that conventionally grown ones.

Anne Seidman sent this NYTimes article about a tomato gene which makes tomatoes beautiful but tasteless — inadvertently bred into most tomatoes to give them a luscious red color. Good enough reason to plant heirlooms!

Gardening geeks will also be interested in Darwin’s The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants. First published in 1865, it remains unsurpassed in its observations on how plants climb. Thanks for locating this classic, Anne!

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