If you don’t have much growing space, it’s good to grow a few versatile plants that can give you more than one type of crop each. If you pick the right ones it can give you more variety, and you only need to raise the one set of seedlings so that also tends to save you some time, money and hassle. So, which plants can give you two crops?
They’re roughly divided into five groups:
- Baby leaf salad that turns into vegetables
- Main crops with extra edible tops and leaves
- Main crops that also throw off edible shoots or buds
- Main crops with edible thinnings
- Soft herbs that also give you edible seeds
One of the best things about plants that give you more than one crop is that they can give you new foods at different times of the year, so there’s something good to eat pretty much all year round. Let’s have a lightning speed tour.
Baby leaf salad that turns into vegetables
There’s more to baby leaf salad than different types of lettuce and cress. Try growing a few plants like amaranth, chard, spinach, green kale and red russian kale, pak choi and chinese cabbage. Pick just a few leaves here and there off each baby plant to get a decent bowlful of interesting salad leaves, then leave the rest to grow on into more robust stir fry vegetables or cabbage-type greens.
Main crops with extra edible tops and leaves
Broad beans have edible tops that are ready to eat before the beans themselves start to swell and get juicy. Nipping the tops off, steaming them and eating them is actually good for the plants, as it reduces the risk of blackfly infestations. Brussels sprouts have edible tops too, which are usually ready after the buttons have been eaten – cook them like cabbage. Purple sprouting broccoli can have a few cabbage-like leaves cut off them here and there as well.
You can also use the tops of some root vegetables, particularly turnip and beetroot leaves. The young ones can be added to salads, and older ones need to be cooked. Be careful not to take too many leaves from the same plant, otherwise it won’t be able to get enough energy down to its roots and you’ll affect the main crop.
Main crops that also throw off edible shoots or buds
Many brassicas on the verge of bolting will give you a few shoots that are similar to mini spears of purple sprouting broccoli, including kale, land cress and Brussels sprouts. Look out for them in the Spring and cut them before the flowers open. A couple of root vegetables, salsify and scorzonera, may also make edible shoots and buds as the weather warms up, and look out for ‘scapes’ coming out of the top of softneck garlic.
Main crops with edible thinnings
It’s often impossible to sow just the right amount of one crop in any given space, especially when the seeds are tiny ones. Thinning out the smaller seedlings gives the bigger ones more room to grow to a good size, and many thinnings are edible and great eaten whole in a salad, including carrots and turnips. Radish thinnings are edible too, but don’t eat the prickly leaves. And don’t forget our old friends, the pea shoots, where you just nip off the top part. Gooseberries can be thinned as well so that the remaining berries grow bigger, and the thinned ones can be cooked and eaten for an early crop that avoids waste.
Soft herbs that also give you edible seeds
There are all kinds of herb and spice plants that are grown specifically for their tasty seeds, and some give you both seeds and edible leaves. The most common examples are probably coriander, dill and fennel, but there are others such as fenugreek to try (also known as methi).
Are you growing any of these this year, or can you think of any more that I’ve missed out?