Do I pull up last year's veggies in the garden if they're still growing?
January 17, 2017 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Help a newbie out. I had kale growing last year over the summer, and they're still going strong. They're taking up half of the raised bed, and as I'm planting new baby vegetables (shoots?), I'm wondering if I'm supposed to take the old kale out.

I understand crop rotation is important, but do old (but good) plants have to be taken out to avoid infestation, or anything like that? The kale has some aphids, but I'm treating them with diatomaceous earth. I've done this for a month now, but some aphids seem to like hanging around.

I'm in Southern California, so it's pretty warm here. Thanks!
posted by film to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Kale is a biennial. If the plants are going strong I'd keep them on.
posted by veery at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2017

I think it depends how intensively you're planning to work your garden, i.e. how much you're trying to maximize your produce per square foot. You will theoretically get better yields from new plants, but in my SoCal garden I've happily let kale plants coast through a couple winters with minimal care, harvesting as much kale as I need from them, until they slow down to the point that I decide to pull them and put in something else.
posted by contraption at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

As an aside, if you like greens that don't need to be replanted every year you might be interested in the magnificent Tree Collard (that was gonna be a link to info about Centrose Nursery in Compton where I traveled to get mine, but I am aghast to learn they have closed. Instead here's an LA Times article that mentions them toward the end.)
posted by contraption at 3:46 PM on January 17, 2017

Get them out now. For the most part you want to yank everything ASAP once you are done using it. Keeping them will make sure you have lots of pests ready to go after whatever you plant next. There are very, very few exceptions to this rule.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 4:50 PM on January 17, 2017

Among the advantages of gardening in California (my experience is with northern, but I imagine there's a lot in common with southern) is that kale and collards can be perennials. My father has a kale plant in his back garden that's been going for years. Also a tree collard, which is another great plant for California gardens.
posted by Lexica at 4:56 PM on January 17, 2017

They would go to seed (shoot up stalks, then flower, then taste gross) in NC during their second year/season. Your Southern California MMV.
posted by concertedchaos at 7:31 PM on January 17, 2017

I'm not sure what this "done using it" concept is. It's a garden, it keeps making produce, you keep eating produce, sounds good. I'm in Northern California and my kale is going strong and I'm planting other plants in other places and some small other greens around my kale to fill in spaces.

But if I had ONE raised bed and I was trying to till it over or otherwise seriously work the soil and replant the whole thing according to some specific plan, I'd probably do that on more of a calendar. Sometimes you take plants out even though they're doing perfectly OK, to make room for something you want more. It just depends on what you want to do with the space.
posted by Lady Li at 10:54 PM on January 17, 2017

Plants that push out new growth from the centre, like kale and parsley, can be kept going until they decide to bolt to seed; just keep harvesting whole leaves from the outside (in the case of parsley, a whole leaf actually looks like a stem) by snapping them off right at the base so you don't leave half-destroyed leaves on the plant (these are a net load on the plant and are frequent targets for pest attack).

Once they bolt, you can choose whether to lose the lot or keep a couple going until they die by themselves, to give you seed for next year.

If you can find a few praying mantises, they will deal with your aphids.
posted by flabdablet at 1:44 AM on January 18, 2017

Keep it and enjoy the fact that you don't live in the frozen tundra. The last thing to die in my veggie garden this year was the parsley, which is pretty good for December in MA. My kingdom for winter gardening!
posted by lydhre at 6:05 AM on January 18, 2017

Guys, give kale some credit, I've have had (cold weather varieties of) kale survive winters in northern MN and come back strong the moment the soil thawed.

I actually probably pull most of it and leave some. If it's already taking up a lot of your garden, depending on the type of kale it could really start to take off because it already has a root system and become an issue for any new plants, plus established kale is going to want to start putting more energy and nutrients into making seeds, and it's not going to taste as good or grow as well.

You might wanna keep one, however. Both for the seeds and because it's neat to let plants play out their cycle sometimes.

Aphid tip: DE is great, but you know what really does a number on aphids? Wasps. There are wasps that only live to eat honeydew and lay eggs in aphids, and you can either attract them (having aphids is a good way) or even just buy a couple hundred and let them at it.
posted by neonrev at 7:52 AM on January 18, 2017

Thanks for the great tips, everyone. The tree collard looks majestic, and seems hearty, tasty, and nutritious.

The jury seems out on whether to pull or keep, so I'm going to keep since the pest problem isn't big. Interesting to note, the aphids like the kale center growth, but don't seem interested in the chards and lettuces in the same bed.
posted by film at 2:07 PM on January 18, 2017

I think the reason you're seeing such different recommendations is that there's a bit of an ideological split right now in gardening philosophies.

The old-school method is to treat your garden as a machine to be built and maintained: you prepare your soil, plug in your rows of crops, add fertilizers of one kind or another, kill off pests as they appear, and remove the spent plants after they've been harvested. This is an effective approach to get a lot of food out of a plot of land in a predictable way, and can be done using conventional methods (petrochemical fertilizers and fancy chemical pesticides) or organic methods (fertilizing with animal manure, compost and compost tea, pest control using mechanical methods, "natural" pesticides and/or beneficial bugs.) Either way, this is an intensive approach that gets a lot of productivity out of the crops but demands a lot of input in the form of labor and nutrients.

Challenging this concept is the "permaculture" movement, which seeks to get away from the more mechanistic style of management and to instead replicate natural ecosystems as much as possible. In this approach pests are a normal part of your garden and are ideally kept at low levels by design, rather than by an active response from you each time they appear. Design elements to reduce the severity of infestations might include trap crops, companion plantings to attract predators or repel pests, interplanting of unrelated crops to make it harder for the bugs to jump from one plant to the next, etc. The goal of the permaculture gardener is to create a "food forest" that largely self-regulates and chugs along without too much human intervention, taking in water and sunlight and putting out food, albeit at a generally more modest rate than an old-fashioned intensively managed garden.

I still count myself as a relative noob, and those 2-year-old kale plants I mentioned definitely had aphids, but they kept producing good quality greens so we kept eating them.
posted by contraption at 2:22 PM on January 19, 2017

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