For a garden that always provides a healthy harvest of leafy greens, dedicate a plot to reliable cut-and-come-again veggies.
Simply defined, these are vegetables that continue to grow throughout the season even after a light harvest. In general they are plants that mature early, grow all season, take up little space and are best harvested often. They are the stalwart Swiss chards, which surprise us with new growth even after we think we’ve picked the last leaf, and delicate loose-leaf lettuces that keep the salad bowl full in an array of texture and colour. “Cut-and-come-again” veggies are a snap to grow and easy on the pocketbook. They are space savers in the garden, and many are suitable for a container or basket. These veggies can be started from seed in the garden or transplanted as babies from a nursery pack. They are cool-season plants, so you can get an extra early start, as soon as the chance of frost is past. Remember, though, that many of them will bolt in hot weather, so plant them in the cooler section of your garden, or interplant them with corn, sunflowers or beans, which offer shade from the summer sun. A bonus is that they perform well as fall crops. As you harvest and pull out your summer garden, replant the space with cool season “cut-and-come-again” veggies. The recommended planting time is mid to late August. Most of these vegetables are leafy greens, so give them a boost with a spray of liquid organic fertilizer, such as kelp or fish, directly on the leaves every 10 days. Since you will be harvesting “cut-and-come-again” veggies before they mature, plant them closer together – allowing just half the distance recommended by the seed company. As the plants mature, pick the larger outer leaves – anything around 8 cm (3 in.) is usually large enough. Hold the leaf straight up and make a cut with a sharp knife between the leaf and the base of the plant, being sure not to cut too low and damage the plant. Within two weeks, the plant will have enough new growth for you to harvest again. An absolute favourite is mizuna. Ready in 45 days and tasty in both salads and stir-fries, its attractive, dark-green feathery leaves are mild and sweet. I direct-seed it as soon as there is no danger of frost and have had great success. Since mizuna is a cole crop, it’s a good idea to keep some BTK (a beneficial bacteria) on hand to control caterpillars. Closely related to mizuna is mibuna, also from Japan. The cultivar ‘Green Spray’ is a vigorous grower, ready within 40 days. Enjoy the sharp flavour of the abundant light-green leaves fresh or cooked; a simple and delicious preparation is to fry them with a bit of butter and garlic. In keeping with the oriental theme I would also recommend growing gai lan, or Chinese broccoli. Each plant can be harvested several times, and its stalks and leaves are ever so tasty. Also popular is Japanese mustard spinach, komatsuna. Ready within three weeks, this tender and mild-tasting vegetable is traditional in Japanese cooking. Enjoy it simply steamed or in salads, stir-fries and soups. Want to add some spice to your summer salad bar? Plant ‘Giant Red’ Japanese leafy mustard. Although the plant matures in 45 days, the young leaves are ready in half the time. Harvest the small, slightly spicy, burgundy leaves and toss into your salads – the larger the leaf the spicier the taste. If you fancy a nutty, peppery flavour, plant a row of arugula; the zippy taste of the little dark-green leaves will perk up your summer salads. Vigorous, nutritious and full of calcium, kale is another excellent crop you can continuously harvest. ‘Lancinato’ black Tuscan kale is stunning with its deeply blistered dark blue-green leaves. If you want a bit of colour, try ‘Redbor,’ a tight-curled, deep mahogany-red kale. To create a trio of kale, plant ‘Winterbor,’ which has ruffled blue-green leaves and happens to be extremely winter hardy. The above-mentioned vegetables are all members of that prolific and variable genus Brassica, which includes such familiar crops as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Many different types of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) are available – grow several kinds and have fresh mixed salads all season long. Excellent loose-leaf cultivars include the light-green ‘Simpson’s Black Seeded,’ deeper-green ‘Deer Tongue’ and wine-red ‘Merlot.’ For added texture plant an oak-leaf lettuce, such as ‘Brunia’ or ‘Salad Bowl.’ And for salad lovers who prefer a bit of crispness, there are the French crisp cultivars ‘Sierra’ or ‘Loma.’ Another flavourful, mildly bitter veggie is radicchio ‘Italian Dandelion,’ which will regrow even when cut right to the ground. This selection of chicory (Cichorium intybus) is fast growing, with dark-green notched leaves in thick bunches. It is excellent in salads or steamed. If you prefer a bit of red in your salads and your garden, grow ‘Red Dandelion,’ which has the same great taste with bright-red veins and stem. Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris) is another excellent choice for the “cut-and-come-again” garden. A fabulous source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, chard’s baby leaves are very ornamental and can be enjoyed fresh or steamed. Add the incredible colours of ‘Bright Lights,’ ‘Rhubarb Chard’ or ‘Canary Yellow’ into your veggie patch and salads. Chard is tolerant of cool weather and often overwinters, making it an excellent addition to the fall garden. Although the vegetables mentioned above are better sown and planted during cooler seasons, there are “cut-and-come-again” veggies suitable for the hot spots in your garden. Two favourites are ‘Fire Red’ orache (Atriplex hortensis, a member of the beet family), which will add vivid red highlights to any salad and has the texture of spinach, and garden purslane, which features succulent, thick green leaves with a light lemon taste. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea subsp. sativa) is not a hybrid, so it can be grown from saved seeds. It is high in antioxidants. One other nutritious leafy vegetable is a tropical Asian type of amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor). A selection known as ‘Red Leaf’ is good fresh in salads or quickly stir-fried. “Cut-and-come-again” veggies are one of the most rewarding crops you can have in your garden. Easy to grow, suitable for small, large or container gardens, they will keep your salad bowl and stir-fry pan full all season long. What more can you ask?