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Continuous growing experience and goals for the future

 
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Hi all

It's my second year gardening/foraging on our New Zealand property and I'm on a mission to get the most out of the land and bush around our place. Last year I experimented with continuous growing and as it is the topic for the week I thought I would share my experience and plans for the future.

My personal takeaways from continuous growing

I found that instead of considering end of year yield (size and quality) as a measure of how well I am doing in the garden, meals I can make the majority of which come from the garden throughout the good growing months seemed to be a better way of looking at the whole thing. Most days I would go down with a big stainless bowl and take everything that was edible then build lunch/dinners around what I had lots of. It seemed with most plants the more I harvested the more it grew back and as long as I had a few plants to rotate my harvesting they would bounce back. If you get a little bit of produce from each plant daily you don't need much to make a meal.

If you harvest smaller singular pieces of new growth from a plant often even if the plant has things eating it they haven't had time to get around to getting stuck into the new growth. It's also easier to see if a small piece of broccoli has bugs on it rather than a larger head where there's tonnes of nooks and crannies for yukky things to be. So you can just harvest the good new bits and leave the disrupted parts of the plants to the things that are eating them (not the best advice the best advice would be to not have creepy crawlies in your garden in the first place but I'm lazy and it seems to work for me).

I have also realised that if I have a diverse range of the same crop the plants will mature differently meaning I can get a better more continuous harvest (peas are probably the best example for this).

Also another massive takeaway is just pick something before it's ripe and see what happens to the plant more often than not it will grow twice as much and twice as fast the next time around.

I would also just harvest things earlier like I harvest my garlic early to put in meals before it was ready and I didn't even need to peel the garlic just chop the entire plant and stick it in a meal. I would also consider just growing only new potatoes in buckets seeding a new bucket weekly and harvesting a bucket of potatoes every week (doesn't matter if it's a small yield or a large yield it's only the difference between 3 meals or one meal of potatoes).

What does that mean for your garden though?
It means that at the end of summer you won't have a bunch of stuff to preserve and eat over winter. Not ideal but bear with me some of these plants that you grow and harvest (broccoli, courgettes) will just grow and grow and grow forever (well for a bloody long time at least). At the end of the growing season the bulk things (tomatoes and capsicums onions) are dirt cheap anyway so could if you felt the need buy and preserve that stuff if you wanted to. Another thing is some of these plants that you harvest over summer can stay in your garden if you live in mild climate and they will just sit dormant over winter and then regrow back in the summer with a strong root system and a head start on the competition (I salivate at the thought of multiple years of the same dwarf capsicum plants growing in my garden).

Most of these plants don't even require many of the plant to give you enough to eat multiple meals from the garden daily so you could probably have your main harvest and a few experimental plants that you pillage throughout the growing season for the table.


Specific plant findings


Broccoli
I gave up on my main broccoli crop early this year. Cut the big heads of broccoli that was growing from the main stalk. After that the plant decided to grow tonnes of small broccoli's. I would go down daily and coupled with the leaves which were delicious in salads and wraps I got an insane amount of meals out of the broccoli there's still one in the garden 8 months later that is still producing broccoli leaves and small heads. After a small bit of research I found that there's some broccoli plants that specialise in primarily growing small heads so I plan next year to grow perhaps 2 of each of 4 different types of broccoli that should be more than sufficient for our needs.

Beetroot
The garden bed I have is old and weed infested with a nasty weed (couch grass) which is probably one of the reasons why the beetroot didn't grow very well last year. While I didn't get any profitable meals from below ground above ground I had a continuous source of beetroot leaves. I really like beetroot and the leaves were good addition to salads. I think next year as well as growing a more diverse range of beetroots I'm considering growing them a lot closer together and ignoring the beetroot side of the plant all together. If I could get a continuous source of leafy beetroot greens for the summer I would be a happy man.

Peas and beans
Holy crap peas are a winner the more you pick the more they grow back. I didn't realise how much yield you can get off one plant. We had a small amount of snow pea plants and I filled a bowl to the brim multiple times through the summer we just hammered the peas more than we could possibly eat. I tried three sisters gardening this year with mixed success (my mistake was I didn't realise that the corn and beans in three sisters system is meant to dry on the plant and not be harvested or disturbed until the pumpkins are ready to harvest. Next year I'm going to build the truss of all trusses and grow as diverse a range of peas as humanly possible (some varieties need to have every single pea picked before they recrop so I will try avoid those) and have them mix all together and pick as much as I can as often as I can.

Celery
I grew way too much celery this year because I found out that you can harvest the outside pieces and the internal part continues to grow. I had way more celery than I ever needed. I would grow a few less celery next year and continue to harvest them in this manner.

Lettuce
I bought a cut and come again lettuce last year it was so productive. I had to keep hammering it back so that it didn't bolt or become latexy. Considering the wealth of greens I got from elsewhere I probably wouldn't even need lettuce at all but still might grow a bit just for diversities sake.

Mustard greens, miners lettuce and hop shoots.
I let miners lettuce and mustard greens go to seed in the garden the miners lettuce comes back every winter and I hammer it and near the end of winter let the rest go to seed for the following year. I'm hoping the mustard greens will be similar I've let it run wild in an area where the hops grow wildly. I've recently discovered that you can harvest the hop shoots in the spring (until they become hairy) which I plan to do next year not only is it a bonus source of food for meals but it actually is something that some hop growers do so that the main crop flowers better (or something like that). Miners lettuce is such a winner for continuous harvest it has been sitting dormant all the hot winter under my garden and as soon as it gets cold it just pops up. It grows in the cold until the spring then it naturally dies away (that's been my experience anyway).

Garlic and onions
My garlic harvest was pretty bad this year because like I said I'm a lazy terrible Gardner with a crap garden. Once I realised my garlic was basically a write off instead of focusing on the bulbs I just harvested the growing tips. Next year I plan to predominantly grow a large quantity of above ground onion and garlicy tasting crops (spring onion bunching onion chives society garlic water cress) and just supplement my meals with those instead of onion and garlic.

Tomatoes
I probably won't bother growing large tomatoes this year they take too long and I can buy and obtain tomatoes for preserving at the end of year relatively easily. I will focus more on growing cherry tomatoes and experiment more with harvesting tomatoes when they are green for cooking as I had a green tomato chutney last year that was phenomenal.

Cucumbers & courgettes
I'll probably focus on gherkins and dwarf varieties of cucumber. Holy crap you can get a million meals from courgettes they just keep going and going the more you take the more they grow.

Capsicum
My capsicums never really grew this year they didn't ripen at the end so unsure what happened there but I would be more inclined to grow smaller ones anyway. Sweet red tollis seem like a winner as well as a new variety they are selling at the supermarkets here that are called little sweeties or something of that nature.

Hopefully that inspires you to try some of the dwarf varieties of plants and harvesting the vegetables that ripen early to see if more grow. The continuous growing aspect of gardening seems rather experimental for me at this stage but a rather fruitful and worthwhile avenue to explore. Over time you get a bit of a knack for how to harvest to encourage growth and continue to stop the plant from bolting or moving through to it's bolting stage (or latexy inedible stage in lettuce for example). The biggest key is going down to your garden with a big stainless steel bowl every single day and not leaving until you have enough for a meal. It's really quite astonishing how little you need to get from every plant to make enough for a meal and how it adds up and how for example when the broccoli is prolific the other plants are still growing.

There's a lot of nuisance and plenty of discussion to be had in many regards to this post (things like the cost to buy seed potatoes that don't yield as much as they potentially could by having their growing opportunities curbed). I'll try keep better track next summer (sep/march for us here) of how much I get and for how long. Hopefully this inspires you to eat more meals from your garden throughout the summer.
 
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WOW! Now you've got me inspired!

I planted miner's lettuce last year and this year it came up all over the place. Very nice ground cover, methinks. I didn't realize it would keep producing, so I pulled up a clump each time I wanted a salad. I let a lot of it go to seed, so hopefully it will come back strong next year and then I'll know to cut it, not pull it up.

 
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Lots of good ideas to try. I would caution that green tomatoes are high in solanine, therefore it is not good to get too much of it. In our area, everybody traditionally makes "chow", which is a green tomato relish. We sell vegetables at the farmers market and we could sell lots of green tomatoes in "chow" season. We just tell people that we don't sell them because green tomatoes are toxic. They of course just get them elsewhere then...
 
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Yes!! Thank you for sharing. 100% to what you are doing!
I came across the succession/staggered planting method some time ago and I'm finally doing it this year. It makes total sense, at least for us and our garden.
Currently, my cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans have been planted several months apart. My garden is small so I couldn't plant every 3 weeks apart. I mean, maybe I could lol But the idea is, that as my first few cucumber plants are yielding fruit, I start growing a few more plants etc, so that we can enjoy them well into the end of the season. And NOT have a gazillion cucumbers at once lol
Thankfully I can do this here in southeast Texas where our summers are LONG. I've harvested tomatoes well into November in the past. Gotta love this weather.
My goal for the future is to start plants indoors and start my early spring and summer planting right away. So basically, start my staggered garden much earlier than this year.
Hope that makes sense haha
 
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Thanks for sharing! This was a good read and I think could be rather encouraging for novice gardeners or those who struggle with/embrace the "lazier" gardening methods. One of my favorite lessons learned in the garden is that even a small harvest is beneficial. Remove the finances from it, the health benefits of eating fresh, home grown food outweighs the seed potato or other cost. I really enjoy thinking differently about the growth and "goal" of a plant, in that the plant's main goal is to grow its fruit or seed to full maturity and then die or wilt away. When it has done this, it sends itself the signal that it is done with its job this year. If we continually harvest the fruit when young and tender, we never allow the plant to accomplish its goal and it will continue (in many cases) to set fruit.
Number one thing I would say is that you are gardening and experimenting the way that works for you and there is nothing better.
Congrats, Good luck and I hope to see updates on this year's harvest, maybe with some pictures (no matter how weed filled and unconventional they may be!)
 
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Thanks so much for writing this all out, Jared. What a year you had!

Can you share some more of the varieties you prefer to grow?
 
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Thank you for sharing.  As a new gardener I intended to weigh our produce to see how we got on.  Actually this is not my style and so I was destined for failure.  

Your alternative approach is what I am going to adopt from now on and I started this morning.  

My little-ist row of mange touts are like magic plants.

As for potatoes, my neughbour is highly critical of my no dig potatoes and said the harvest would be small.  On Sunday we helped an old lady harvest her dug in potatoes and it was back breaking.  Much rather swan in gather a few smaller CLEAN potatoes as needed then feel like I am in a chain gang when it comes to harvesting tats.
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I keep my tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse because they like the heat.  Other container planter I move in for the 2 months where it freezes and then move them back out. but in the shady areas of the greenhouse grows what we call New Zealand spinach. It is a vine with tiny yellow flowers at each leaf node  which makes a hard seed.  But the leaves are larger in the shade and it likes heat but will also survive the cold and grow some more the next hot day. If the large leaves are picked off it grows faster but if the tip is picked off the leaves get larger but in either case it makes new branches at the base of the large leaves.
I kept the broccoli plant that my sister was growing when she died producing for 4 years but the barrel it was in rusted away and collapsed.
When I move my containers out of the greenhouse there are always some lost potatoes that come up in the empty spaces to compete with the  NZ spinach so I get a spring crop.
 
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