A few years ago, our Master Gardener program was lucky enough to have Willi Galloway as one of our teachers. She is a backyard gardener who lives in Portland, and is the author of “Grow Cook Eat.” Many of us could relate to her because she had a small backyard, yet she grew a lot and shared with us how she learned to use that yard to her advantage and feed as much as she could to her family.
One of the things many of us remember was her discussing with us how she thinned her radishes. As many of you know, it is hard to plant those tiny seeds far enough apart and they always need to be thinned, but pulling up those tiny plants nearly always disturbed the radishes next to the ones being pulled. She suggested we use a pair of scissors and snip off the ones we wanted to thin, but not throw the leaves away. Instead, throw them into a colander, rinse and eat them. At that stage they are mild, and the leaves are tender. She said they always included them on their grilled cheese sandwiches.
About three years ago, we planted some agricultural mustard to use as a cover crop in our heirloom garden. It grew very tall, and had beautiful yellow flowers on those long stems. When we ate one of the blooms, it was delicious with a bit of a bite to it and we enjoyed many of those flowers on our salads before it was used to help fertilize the soil. Since that time we have learned that all mustards are edible, but many may not be as tasty as everyone thought that one was.
But what about other flowers from vegetables? We know that if we don’t keep harvesting our vegetables, they will eventually flower. We refer to this as bolting and usually we think the crop is over unless we are allowing that flower to go to seed so we can harvest the seed. The radishes we have already mentioned have a beautiful white flower and then a seed pod. Slice those pods when they are young and tender and enjoy them on your salad. If you enjoyed those beautiful roots before they bolted, you ate radishes three different ways at three different times: leaves, roots, and pods.
We all love cilantro, but growing it in our hot summers is difficult. You must harvest it quickly or it bolts. But when it does, don’t pull it out. Those beautiful little white flowers are very edible and following that flower stage, the plant produces little green seeds that become coriander, a little different taste than cilantro but still so favorable. Once again you have eaten leaves, flowers and seeds from this plant.
Don’t forget the Allium family. We might harvest some onions in green onion stage to garnish our stir fry or let them become much larger and store for winter use, but remember that the stems are always edible and the flower heads are too. Garlic chives, in that Allium family, are so tasty when used in cooked dishes, and their blooms are large white clusters of flowers and are served as a delicacy in high-scale restaurants as a garnish for salads.
If you grow broccoli, you know that most varieties form a large head to harvest and then the plant puts out side shoots of much smaller sized “heads,” sometimes almost bite-sized. These smaller heads tend to bolt quickly and form a yellow bloom. But that is edible, too, along with the stock those flowers are growing on. Simply stir fry them in a bit of butter and serve.
We hope we have introduced you to a whole new way of looking at the space you have to grow food and how you can harvest much more in that space. Do your research and see what else you can enjoy to eat. And even amaze your family and friends when they see flowers in their food.