I’ve been bartering with work colleagues, their eggs for our veggies. Todays swap was silverbeet and leeks for a half a dozen eggs. As I was cutting the leeks I remembered the tip I learned from Sister Mechtild, the nun responsible for looking after the gardens on the program The Abbey, (which was shown on the ABC a few years ago). Sister Mechtild pointed out that if you cut the leeks off above their base, that is don’t pull them out of the ground completely, they will re-shoot and grow another edible stem. Why throw away all the energy already invested in those strong roots.
These are leeks that I’ve harvested over the past week. You can see the strong re-growth already.
Likewise when you cut the centre flower out of a broccoli plant, the plant will go on to produce multiple side shoots all of which are edible and come in small convenient sizes for stir fries or florets that are the right size for cooking without the need for futher preparation.
This apparently scraggy specimen has been producing edible side shoots for over a month and will probably do so for another month. However, you must keep cutting the shoots to encourage more to grow before they start to flower.
When we grow veggies for our home consumption, unless you are feeding a very large family, we do not need to grow them as if we were farmers raising a commercial crop. If you grow plants to harvest all at the same time then all you end up with is a glut of food and a storage problem. There are any number of strategies that you can try to extend the harvesting time of your veggies and the overall productivity of your garden.
I’ve found that the most useful veggies in my garden are those that you can cut and come again. That is pick a few leaves for your meal and leave the bulk of the plant in the ground to keep producing. Loose leaf lettuces, spinaches, celery all fall into this category. This is a really good principle for anyone who is thinking about what they will be planting over the coming months.
Staggered growing or sucession planting, that is planting a few seedlings each week over a period of months rather than all in one hit is definitely the way to go. I think it was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that suggested sewing a new tray of seeds before you go to plant out your seedlings to ensure that you keep the plantings going. Which reminds me that I need to plant some more beetroot seeds today!
Another approach that extends the productivity of your garden is to take a harvest of young shoots, such as garlic, broad beans or peas, while the plant is growing, before harvesting the main crop of bulbs or pods. These shoots are great to throw into stir fries or even a salad. If you want to check this out in relation to garlic shoots you can pop on over to the Guardian vodcast of Earth to Alys, where Alys Fowler (host of the UK’s Gardeners’ World) shows how to use the flowering shoots of hard-neck garlic. BTW if you check out the earliest of her vodcasts on her allotment the timing is right for spring.