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Self-seeding veggie plants can provide a free crop next year

Rows of several tall and slender green stalks of kale grow out of a garden plot.
scottie bimich
Biannual vegetable plants like kale can still provide you with free seed for another crop. Let them flower after the growing season and they'll drop their seeds into the soil. You'll end up with several baby kale plants which will then provide another fall crop.

When certain plants are left to grow and to go to seed, those seeds can drop, germinate and grow and provide you with a free crop next spring.

This method works well with lots of garden plants, especially lettuces, arugula, mustard greens and even some herbs like fennel and dill.

You've probably seen lettuce plants that have "bolted" or gone to seed in your garden. At the end of the season, the lettuce plant sends up a tall stalk in the center of the plant that then flowers. From there, the flower can drop seed onto the soil where it will germinate and grow the next year. The seeds may drop onto the same soil as the mother plant or in other nearby areas.

Instead of a free-for-all, wind-driven planting party, you can be more intentional with those free seeds! If you have an area you want to use the free seeds in, just cut the bolted stalk of your veggie plant once it starts setting seed. Move it to the area you want the plants to grow and shake the plant to loosen and distribute the seeds onto the soil. That's it! No need to fertilize or water.

The seed will then sit on the soil all winter long. Then in spring when the conditions are just right — the right moisture and warmth — the seeds will germinate. You can also wait till they begin to sprout to dig them up and move them to another location, too.

This method even works with kale, which is a biannual. If you have kale plants in your garden, let them form a flower. In the spring, it will drop seeds, and then by mid-summer, you'll have baby kale plants that you can move around and have a nice fall crop.

Allowing your plants to bolt and provide free seeds is a money-saver. And seeing them germinate and grow next spring by nature's clock and not a calendar also gives you an indication of when to plant your other lettuces and cool season greens.

A question on how to shape up straggly boxwood hedges

Q: I neglected to trim the boxwood bushes in the spring. They're looking very straggly! I think something's been eating at them a little bit. Can I trim them now in the fall or should I wait till next spring? P.S. I cover them with a wooden frame wrapped in burlap in the winter to protect them. - Ella, who listens via the Vermont Public app

A: Wait till the spring! Cutting boxwood hedges now in the fall will stimulate new growth, which you don't want to do as we head into winter. In spring, cut them back significantly and they'll regrow really well over the next couple of seasons.

A question about scabby homegrown potatoes and how to eat and store them

Q: I've just harvested my potatoes from my grow bags and discovered what I believe to be potato scabs on most of them. Are they safe to eat? Can the potatoes still be stored? How can I prevent this problem from happening next year? - Tom, who streams Vermont Public

A: If you do have scabs on your potatoes, you can still eat them! Just cut away or peel the scabs off, and the potatoes will be fine to eat. You can still store the potatoes as well. Check them throughout the winter to make sure they aren't beginning to rot in storage.

And then next year, if you want to prevent having scabs, try planting potatoes in a different place. Add a little sulfur onto the soil. That will lower the pH to keep the potato scabs at bay.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Submit your written question via email, or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.