A few weeks ago, I cut away at my spinach plants, reaping a good harvest but leaving each stalk intact with a few leaves on each one. Yesterday, I finally pulled the plants out and removed another big bowl's worth of spinach leaves. It was a marvelous second harvest of some plants most other gardeners would have removed after the first harvest, either because they didn't think they would produce again, or to make room for something else.
But many plants will come back again if you just harvest carefully, and leave enough leaves on the plant for photosynthesis to happen, with roots intact.
This cabbage plant is on its third season of production. It was planted in winter 2012, and since then has produced no less than six heads of lettuce. This started because I was initially too lazy to pull out the plant's roots, so I cut the cabbage head off and just left the rest of it alone in the bed. Lo and behold, come fall 2013, there were another couple of heads to harvest from the same plant. And now, in summer 2014, there are two more. The leaves may be bug-eaten and sorry looking, but the head of cabbage is still good. Just in time for summer slaw.
And last summer, I again got lazy at the end of the growing season (if you're sensing a trend here, you're right) and left a few tomatoes on the vine, to ripen, fall into the dirt, and disperse their seeds. And I have these volunteer tomatoes to show for it, every bit as big and lovely as the ones I painstakingly grew in the solarium this spring.
We talk a lot about the wisdom of recycling, but rarely do most of us think of allowing our plants to recycle themselves.
For success like this, all it takes is being too busy to garden (and/or plain old laziness), some serious procrastination and some patience or just a willingness to look away for awhile while Mother Nature works her magic.