Broccoli season here in the low desert is nearing its end. There is still more to harvest for a couple of weeks yet, but the plants are hurrying now to get their seeds set before the hot weather starts, and I’m hurrying faster to get my harvest ahead of them.
After the initial main head is harvested (above), the stem will heal and the plant will produce many side shoots. These can be harvested and used just like the main head, but rather than the work of cutting and separating the main head, think of these side shoots being pre-cut for your convenience.
The shoots we usually eat are actually clusters of the buds of many, many small flowers. If I leave the shoots and don’t harvest them, the buds will burst into full flower and then eventually go to seed. The plant then becomes woody, bitter, inedible as it puts its energy into seed-making. As the weather warms the process goes faster and faster, and eventually I’m out there every day looking for new shoots to cut and eat before it’s too late.
The flowers, leaves, and peeled stems are all edible; add the flowers to pretty up a salad, and then make a delicious broccoli-cheese soup with the leaves. If I know that the plant is an heirloom or open-pollinated variety, I might also let one plant mature its seeds for September planting.
Finally, when I’ve had all I want, the rest of the plant goes to the chickens for a much-needed calcium boost.