THE initial broccoli heads have been harvested from our garden and eaten steamed, saut'eed, or with a cheese sauce. Now the side heads are coming along. That's the beauty of this broccoli: It's a cut-and-come-again vegetable and you can't ask for better than that in the garden. What many people do not realize, however, is that a few other crops can be induced to reproduce in similar fashion. Cabbage is one, bush beans another, and there are some interesting little tactics we can adopt with tomatoes and potatoes as well.
Cabbage. When the cabbage head is cut, the plant, denied the ability to set seed (which it would do from an uncut head the next year), tries again. It does so by forming shoots at the base of every leaf. Left alone, it would produce six or more little heads use- ful for soup, but not much more. If all but one of these new buds are removed soon after they have formed, it will grow to form a second head which, in some instances, is almost as big as the first.
Using this method I have had three successive harvests from the same plant. Here's what to do:
1. After cutting the first head, spread a generous amount of compost or aged manure as a mulch around the plant and water well. Or you might add a side dressing of conventional fertilizer and cover with a leaf or straw mulch.
2. Allow the new buds to form, select the one you feel is growing most vigorously, and remove the rest. Do not remove the old large leaves from the base of the plant. They provide needed energy to the new developing head. It pays, too, to remove some of the new side shoots from broccoli, as fewer large shoots are more appetizing than many small ones.
Beans. Bush beans have been developed to produce heavily over a two-week period so that the commercial grower can have a one- time machine harvest and avoid handpicking. Left in the home garden, bush beans will often flower again in a limited way and produce a small secondary harvest. Some innovative gardeners, however, have found that pruning the beans can actually improve this second picking quite substantially.
Toward the end of the first harvest I go through the bean patch and pick every bean, whether it is mature or not. Those beans that are not large enough to eat are thrown on the compost heap. The idea is to stop seed production abruptly. Then the plants are pruned by cutting one-third or so from the main stem and the side branches as well. Much of the foliage is removed by this treatment, but some large leaves remain.
Next I feed the bean patch by spreading a liberal application of compost throughout the bed and watering well. Soon new shoots appear, and the plants grow full sized again and produce a second heavy crop. The theory is that pruning and feeding the beans while they are still green rejuvenate them. Whether all bush bean varieties will respond this way isn't known, but if you're at all experimentally inclined, it's worth finding out if the system works for your particular favorites.
Tomatoes and potatoes. Once when harvesting early potatoes (Irish cobblers), I took cuttings from some of the greener stems, dusted them in a little rooting compound, and placed them in a mix of moist sand and perlite in some light shade. After rooting, these new little plants were set out in the garden where they flourished until frost, when we harvested a generous supply of small- to medium-size potatoes. Only the early arrival of frost prevented a harvest of full-size spuds.
You can do the same thing with tomatoes. This tactic is particularly valuable with determinate tomatoes, which produce all their fruit over a short period and then stop growing. Take a healthy green side shoot, remove fruiting flowers that may be on it, and root it as described for potatoes. The cutting will develop into a full-size plant, producing far more fruit than if it had remained on the parent. Remember, a rooted cutting is much more than a seedling. It starts out with mature fruit-produci ng tissue and becomes productive very quickly.