Broccoli – When it comes to broccoli, the focus is unfairly put on the florets. Once they are harvested the rest of the plant too often gets yanked and tossed. Which is a shame. The thick stem of the broccoli plant is not only perfectly edible, it’s delicious and dependably worm-free. Kids even seem to prefer the stalks and they contain just as many nutrients, so it can be a great way to get broccoli into your family without the fuss. It is also nice if you have ever been frustrated by your florets going to seed before you had a chance to pick them. The stalks are delicious diced up into salads, steamed, tossed into soups or fingered like carrots for dipping. If you are still all about the florets, the plant will grow a few more even after cutting them off. And THEN you can eat the stalks! The leaves are tasty too.
Cabbage – If you have the room and aren’t planning on replacing your cabbage with another plant during the harvest season, leave the roots intact. Cut off the main head and “baby” cabbages will grow back in its place. Those big leaves around the cabbage can also be used in salads or for wraps. If you live in a mild enough climate the cabbages can be left in the ground all winter and come spring you will have early cabbage greens for salads. If you live in a colder climate you can pot up your cabbage plants and put them in a root cellar for the winter and then plant them out in the spring for the same “early spring greens” result. Once the greens are harvested you should (finally!) pull up the entire plant and start again. Or if they are open pollinated (not hybrid) let them produce seed for saving.
Celery – Simply cut individual stalks from the plant as needed and the plant will regrow more. The leafy bits on the end are delicious as well. This is another vegetable that can be potted up and stored in a root cellar until spring for early greens and stalks.
Garlic – It’s not all about the bulb! Young garlic stems are delicious and can be used to add garlic flavour to salads, soups and as a sprinkle for roasted vegetables, baked potatoes or egg dishes. When the garlic gets older it will form “scapes” (seed heads) right at the tip of its stem. These are delicious fried up in butter or, for a healthier version, in olive oil. Moreover it is a delicacy that you are unlikely to ever encounter in the grocery store.
Green Onions – Unless you are really coveting the entire white end of the onion, simply cut off the stems and the greens will grow back several times. If you do pull up the entire onion you can still plant the hairy root ends back in the soil, or simply set them in a dish of water on your kitchen counter and they will grow back!
Kale – I don’t think anyone ever pulls up a kale plant until the season is done, but if you do…well, cease and desist! Simply pick the leaves off and the plant will continue to produce more. If you live in a colder climate a touch of frost only improves the flavor. In warmer places kale can keep in the garden all winter long, even producing a few more leaves in the spring before needing to be replaced.
Lettuce – Mesclun Mix is probably the best packet of lettuce seeds to reach for if you want to plant a “cut and come again” salad patch. However, spinach, Swiss chard and most greens (including the kale above) should not be “once and done” harvested by pulling up the entire plant. Instead snip or gently tear off however many leaves you need, leaving the plant to grow more leaves for another day until they become too bitter or go to seed.
Potatoes – Do NOT even think of eating potato leaves. Stop it! They are poisonous. But if you want a few baby potatoes without sacrificing the entire plant you can practice a harvest method known as “robbing”. Wearing a camouflaged jumpsuit and a mask sneak out to your potato patch at night (kidding, but it does make it more fun) and gently brush the soil away exposing some of the roots and those beautiful, baby potatoes. Work your way down the row picking a few from each plant and then, of course, cover your tracks by gently replacing the soil so the remaining tubers can grow to full maturity.
Radishes – these belles of the springtime garden go to seed with maddening rapidity. It seems like you have scarcely dropped the seeds into the soil before they are shooting for the sky and bursting into bloom. At this stage the roots taste terrible and usually the entire plant becomes fodder for the compost heap, But wait! All is not lost. Those seed pods are actually a real treat and add a zesty dash to salads. Some people even deliberately leave radish roots to set seed pods so they can pickle them. Others collect the seed to use for sprouts for sandwiches and such as shown in the picture above.
I am sure there are other vegetables that can be used in a multitude of ways I haven’t learned about yet. That’s what I love about vegetable gardening…you are always learning new ways to make the most out of growing your own groceries. And you get to try new, delicious, treats you just can’t buy for love or money.