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Category: Grow Your Own Food

  • How to Harvest & Eat Your Broccoli Leaves Recipe

    June 17, 2014

    As the first day of summer approaches, cool season crops like lettuce, baby carrots, and broccoli ripen for harvest, but are you missing out on eating all their parts because, maybe, you need a broccoli leaves recipe and harvesting help?

    How to Maximize your broccoli crop + recipe

    Broccoli plants offer more than just crowns like this to eat!

    Yep, broccoli leaves are as edible as the leaves of their nutrient-packed cousin kale!

    When the central head of a broccoli crown is still tightly in bud and tucked several inches below the tops of the highest leaves, it’s time to take your first harvest. If you wait longer and the crown flowers begin to open, your harvest may be tougher and less flavorful, so don’t keep waiting to see what else might happen.

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    How to Harvest the Central Crown:

    Young broccoli crown

    Young Broccoli crown forming on a plant. It’ll be ready to cut out soon!

    Using a sharp knife, slice out that central flower head (or crown), and leave the rest of the plant in place. Smaller broccoli florets will likely form along the intact stalk, arising from buds at the base of the remaining leaves. In fact, you may see some of them already starting to form when you cut out the big, central crown.

    How to Harvest axillary (side) florets:

    The side florets on broccoli can form rapidly, so check your plants frequently, and trim out the side florets when they are no more than about 4-5″ long. These aren’t likely to get big like the central crown, so the idea is to harvest many of them while they are small.

    Broccoli axillary florets

    After the top crown has been removed, side florets like these will form quickly.

    Like the central crown, the axillary florets will get tough and unpalatable if you let them grow long and open their flowers.

    How to Harvest broccoli leaves:

    When you harvest your big, central broccoli crown, you’ll probably end up cutting out a few leaves as well. Don’t toss them into the compost pile. Instead, remove the mid-rib and add them to your broccoli dish. Once the central crown is removed from the plant, you can begin trimming out a few leaves from the plant on a regular basis. As you would with Kale, remove the lower leaves on the plant first, and only take a few from each plant at a time — especially if you are encouraging the plant to grow more axillary florets. They’ll need those leaves to photosynthesize, which is how they feed themselves.

    How to cut out a broccoli leaf with a paring knife.

    Clip lower leaves on your broccoli plant first, removing them where they meet the stem by cutting or snapping. Don’t tear the main stalk!

    Once you have harvested all the side florets from your broccoli plant (at a certain point the plant will either run out of side buds for production or just wear out from having everything taken from it), go ahead and trim out the rest of the leaves as well as the central stalk, much of which is truly delicious as well — just chop off the toughest portions and peel off the exterior layer to reveal the crunchy sweetness of the central stem.

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    The roots, leaf midribs, and the toughest portions of the stalk are food for your compost heap.

    Want more info on growing broccoli? Read on!

    Small Space Broccoli Growing Tips & Tricks

    Cabbage Butterfly Pest Egg Photo ID

    How to Use broccoli leaves in the kitchen
    **Now with two recipes**: (more…)

  • How to Grow Cilantro & Coriander

    June 03, 2014

    It’s easy to grow cilantro from seed. And getting fresh leaves isn’t the only reason to grow cilantro. This tasty herb offers up a number of surprising flavors for the kitchen and benefits in the garden.

    How to Grow Cilantro from Seed

    Dried coriander in your spice rack looks the same as cilantro seed that you sow.

    Not only will you get to enjoy the tangy fresh leaves shortly after seeding, but this plant also matures to yield coriander seed later in its life cycle. So, even if you’re someone who finds the flavor of cilantro to be soapy and distasteful, consider growing this crop for delicious coriander, which tastes entirely different from the fresh leaves. While it is possible to purchase cilantro starts at the nursery, we find it is best to grow cilantro from seed because it matures rapidly and doesn’t perform well if transplanted. So grab a packet of seeds, fill a pot with soil, or just get your veggie beds prepped, and start seeding today!

    Unlike many other edible plants, cilantro grows very well even when individual plants are grown closely together. And, cilantro will germinate and grow in relatively cool (not frigid or frozen) temperatures, so it is often possible to get an early crop growing under a bit of protection in late winter or very early spring. Although crops sown in the heat of summer have the potential to bolt rapidly, those bolting (aka flowering) plants will come in handy in the garden and kitchen as well. When it comes to cilantro, sowing multiple succession crops (aka plant a new round of seeds every few weeks) means having fresh leaves to harvest harvest well into the end of the growing season.

    Cilantro planting emerging from seed

    As early as February, begin sowing cilantro seeds in sterile mix under lights. The seeds may seem to take a little longer than other seeds to germinate & emerge from the soil, but once they get started, these plants grow fast! By early March these young seedlings will be ready for harvesting by thinning. And, don’t forget to sow another round of cilantro seeds again and again every couple of weeks throughout the growing season to ensure a continual harvest.

    Cool Season Seedlings

    Within several days of sowing cilantro (and other cool season crops) seedlings will emerge like these. Cilantro will continue to grow well in a crowded pot, unlike the other plants shown here that need separating and transplanting to give them room to grow bit.

    Harvesting cilantro grown from seed

    Cilantro plants grow rapidly from seed, and they will perform well grown closely together while they’re young. As you harvest, snip out entire plants from the base as is shown here. This will thin the plantings, giving remaining plants room to continue to grow.
    (Disclosure: Shown garden snips provided by Fiskars for test purposes. No additional compensation was provided by Fiskars for this post or photography.)

    Aphids on Cilantro

    Watch out for aphids on coriander. They love the sweetness of these tender leaves. If aphids find your cilantro, wash them off or squish them. Increase airflow around the plants or try a sticky lure to trap these pests. Worst case: harvest your crop and reseed again.

    Four cilantro plants in a 4" pot

    Even about 3-4 cilantro plants will perform well in a tiny 4″ pot. Harvest to thin as needed, and allow one to remain in the end. When this last plant goes to seed (aka flowers), it can become your lure for bringing in pollinators. And, this final plant will produce coriander too!

    Bee Pollinating flowering cilantro plant

    If you allow some of your cilantro plants to go to seed (aka flower), use them as lures to attract pollinators like this wild bee. Not only will the bees pollinate your cilantro plant to form coriander seed, but the pollinators will likely visit other nearby plants like squash, cucumber and others.

    Once your cilantro plants begin to form a purplish-thick mid-stem for flowering, the flavor of the entire plant will begin to be more like the taste of coriander than cilantro. It’s still edible and tastes great in curries, but it may not be quite the right flavor for dishes like salsa. Hopefully, as one crop begins to transform into the coriander phase, you have another, more recently seeded crop of cilantro growing on strong as well. Seed this crop over and over for both flavors fresh from the garden throughout the growing season.

    Green Coriander Seeds on Plant

    After the pollinators visit your flowering cilantro plants, green coriander pods will form. Harvest them green for fresh cooking or freezing. Or, allow them to dry on the plant, and harvest them to store and use as in your spice rack as dried coriander.

    It is possible to save seeds from your cilantro plants to grow in the years ahead, but to get a good crop of cilantro from your saved seed, you may need to isolate your seed plant from pollinators. If a pollinator visits a cousin of the cilantro (like dill, parsley or carrots) and mixes the pollen from those plants with the flowers of your cilantro, you may end up with seed that looks like coriander and tastes like coriander but will produce a plant that tastes nothing like cilantro. Sure, you might end up with a new cool plant, but you might end up growing something that isn’t what you want at all. That’s sexual reproduction for you!

    Green Coriander

    A little bit of green coriander goes a long way in many dishes.
    Plus, it keeps well frozen for cooking in winter.

  • Drought Tolerant Edible Garden

    April 22, 2014

    A majority of our gardening clients ask for drought tolerant edible gardens. Usually, they tack on a request for low maintenance as well. Achieving all three goals: low water needs, edible and easy care doesn’t quite fall into lock-step with a traditional, seasonal vegetable garden filled with (say) tomatoes, spinach and carrots.


    Dandelions are colorful, edible & low maintenance plants, but are they ideal for your garden aesthetic?

    While you could reach this trinity with a neglected yard lush with edible “weeds” like purslane and dandelion, your neighbors might not see the value as much as you do. Certainly, an herb garden might begin to fit this bill, but you would still need to provide supplemental water to get the garden growing, plus a few flavorful, woody herbal shrubs aren’t likely to truly fill your family’s belly. So, what’s the key to creating a beautiful garden that you can eat and you don’t need to heavily water in a drought or fuss with every day?

    Enter noted plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson, author of several books including Trees of Seattle and Wild Plants of Seattle. Also, he is the author of over a hundred articles on weeds and the former curator of the Weed Garden at Seattle Tilth. In his own garden, he cultivates all sorts of fun plants — from natives to weeds to the rare and unusual. And, he’s tasted many of them and happily shares what he’s eaten. In one of his recent newsletters, he mentioned that many sedums are edible; he knows because he has eaten them.

    Sedum Suaveole & Sedum album

    Sedum suaveole looks like a Sempervivum, but look at the flowers! (Shown with Sedum album).
    Image courtesy of Arthur Lee Jacobsen

    If you read this blog or have worked with Garden Mentors® on a garden design or consulting project, you know there are any number of hardy, beautiful, drought tolerant, perennial sedums. These plants come in a range of colors and sizes, and their blooms are magnets for honeybees and other pollinators. And, the seed heads that remain into winter are food for foraging songbirds.

    Turns out, according to Arthur Lee in our recent email exchange, many are also food for our plates. He does warn that while, “Hundreds of Sedum species exist, I have tasted only dozens. Most are unpleasantly astringent, or even acrid.” But there are several he does favor including one of our favorites for the garden: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and a Great Plant Picks favorite Sedum ‘Sieboldii’. (more…)

  • Cabbage Butterfly Eggs: Squish’m Young!

    April 21, 2014

    Despite the fact that our cabbage patch is planted under a hoop house, we caught a sneaky cabbage butterfly laying her eggs on our greens recently. These ladies are sneaky. They will go so far as to land and walk under a tiny crack where hoop coverings meet soil to get in and give their babies a delicious birthing location.

    Cabbage Butterfly

    This white butterfly with two black dots on each wing is not a moth. She flies in the daylight, even in cool, damp weather, seeking out your cabbage patch where she will lay hungry cabbage butterfly eggs.

    Caught giving birth all over our cauliflowers, cabbages, and broccoli, she met her maker with a big ole squish.

    Then, it was time to flip over each leaf every day for a couple of days to flick off the eggs she had laid. Said eggs are really tiny, so it’s easy to miss them. Hence, checking every day for several days.

    Cabbage Butterfly Eggs

    The tiny yellow dots on the underside of brassica leaves are Cabbage Butterfly eggs. Carefully scrape them off the leaves as soon as you see them.

    If you miss squishing all the eggs, those little yellow flecks hatch fast into tiny yellow caterpillars that voraciously devour all things brassica (cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc…). And, as they eat, they quickly change from snot-yellow to bright green, which camouflages them among the plants they eat.

    Have a look at what you’ll see once those flecks of cabbage butterfly eggs grow into fast, green eating machines.

  • Grow Your Own Asparagus Guide

    December 29, 2013

    Try our step-by-step tips & tricks to grow your own asparagus at home!

    Young asparagus shoots almost ready to eat

    Young asparagus shoots almost ready to eat

    The biggest mistake you’ll make as a gardener is waiting to plant certain things. Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for giving yourself time to experience a space before you go crazy putting in an entire garden, but if there’s one thing you want to get into the ground as early as possible, it’s asparagus.

    Why plant it on the hurry-up?

    As with many perennial crops, asparagus needs at least two to three years to become established in the garden before you harvest a single spear. Sounds frustrating, but once this long-lived crop hits its stride, it will feed you an abundance of tasty, nutritious spears.

    Tightly budded, short asparagus tips ripe for the picking

    Tightly budded, short asparagus tips ripe for the picking

    Plus, these plants are incredibly beautiful, so encouraging them to grow beyond the edible spear stage will reward you with gorgeous, tall, ferny foliage spring through fall.

    Here’s a step-by-step, year-to-year guide to get your asparagus growing strong: (more…)

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(Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)